More Than a Sermon – More Than a Preacher by Tony Cooke

More Than a Sermon – More Than a Preacher
Tony Cooke

More Than a Sermon Tony CookeIt’s amazing how we can focus on certain aspects of Scripture at one point in our lives, only to see richer, broader, deeper thoughts in surrounding and complementary passages as we mature through time, growth, and experience.

For example, when I was a Bible School student and young in ministry. I was very excited about Matthew 9:35, which says, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.”

This verse highlights three major emphases of Jesus’ ministry: teaching, preaching, and healing. There’s nothing wrong with loving that verse (I still do). However, my problem (or limitation) was that I locked on to that verse so strongly, that I forgot to see the significance and relevance of some of the verses that follow.

I assumed that if we just taught, preached, and laid hands on the sick, that everyone’s needs would be gloriously (and permanently) met, and that no other type of ministry would be needed. As a young assistant pastor, I looked at one-on-one ministry (spiritual guidance and offering encouragement), hospital visitation, reaching out to first-time visitors, etc. as somehow being inferior to pulpit ministry, almost as a “necessary evil.” After all (I reasoned), if people would just listen to our anointed sermons, they would be all taken care of, be made perfectly whole, and have no other needs.

I have not ceased to highly value and esteem the ministry of the Word and the Spirit—not at all. It’s something that Jesus did, and it’s still vital today. But I didn’t notice something back then that I’ve since come to see and appreciate. Stop and think for a moment. Has anyone ever been more anointed in their teaching, preaching, and healing ministry than Jesus? No! He had the Spirit without measure (John 3:34).

So, if teaching, preaching, and healing was the total sum of all ministry, I would assume that wherever people were exposed to such ministry, every need would have been met, every individual would have been gloriously transformed, and everyone in those communities would have been catapulted into unparalleled bliss. Is that what happened? Not really.

After Jesus had gone about “all the cities and villages” teaching, preaching, and healing, we read this : “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:37).

Wait a minute. Aren’t these the same people that Jesus had just ministered to? Even with His awesome ministry, after He had taught, preached, and healed in all the cities and villages, people still had great needs. The Amplified rendering of this verse says, “He was moved with pity and sympathy for them, because they were bewildered (harassed and distressed and dejected and helpless), like sheep without a shepherd.” Imagine how troubled these folks were before Jesus ministered to them!

Jesus had taught, preached, and healed, but He saw the people still facing great need and requiring the ministry of a “shepherd.” Obviously, teaching is good, but people need more than just a “teaching center.” Preaching is good, but people need more than just a “revival center.” Healing is good, but people need more than just a “healing service.” Jesus acknowledged the need for shepherds… for pastors. Not just people with a title, but leaders who really express the heart and compassion of the Great Shepherd!

When I was about to resign from my first position as an assistant pastor in 1983 to go teach at Rhema, I found myself speculating what kind of impact my ministry might have had at that church, and what types of things people might say upon our departure. To my shock, not one single person thanked me for “this sermon” or for “that Bible lesson.” What people did express appreciation for were the times I’d sat with a family through a surgery, spending time with them when they were in a crisis, praying with them individually when their world seemed to be falling apart.

While teaching, preaching, and healing are vital, sometimes the most impacting ministry takes place personally through a pastoral touch… through the presence of someone expressing the heart of Jesus, the Great Shepherd. Having a pastor’s heart and engaging in pastoral care does not take the place of teaching, preaching, and healing, but it builds upon it! It’s not an either/or proposition; it’s both/and. But the expansion of ministerial perspective doesn’t stop here. We see another element in the next two verses.

Matthew 9:37-38
37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

Do you notice the progression of thought?

  1. The Word and the Spirit (teaching, preaching, and healing)
  2. Pastoral Ministry (He saw them as sheep without a shepherd)
  3. The Multiplication of Laborers (one person can’t do all the work)

Imagine a pastor who initially thinks it’s all about pulpit ministry, and later comes to see the significance of personal ministry. If he dives into trying to meet all of the needs of the people on a personal level, he’ll soon realize how taxing, demanding, and draining that can be. It won’t be long before he cries out to God as Moses did, “I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!” (Numbers 11:14-15, NLT).

At this point (and hopefully, before this point), the multiplication of laborers is realized to be imperative. As a minister’s perspective evolves, he grows out of the idea that he can do it all himself (or that he can do it all from the pulpit). He realizes that “doing ministry” is important, but “developing ministers” is absolutely essential, not only for his own survival, but also for healthy Kingdom expansion.

Further, those he develops can’t just have the skills of ministry, but they have to have the heart of ministry. Could this be reflected in Paul’s remarks? “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

Finally, there is to be a consistent multiplication of laborers. After Jesus demonstrated the ministry of the Word and the Spirit (through teaching, preaching, and healing), after He emphasized that ministry has to be done with a Shepherd’s heart, and after He encouraged them to pray for multiplied laborers, he implemented that exact same strategy with His own team.

Matthew 10:1, 5
1 And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying…

Having become fully man, Jesus was working through the limitation of being in a single, earthly body. So he multiplied Himself through the laborers that He had loved and trained. This same multiplication of laborers is found in the Great Commission itself:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore…” (Matthew 28:18-19).

Likewise, Paul demonstrated this same understanding when he told Timothy, “…the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

So what should our perspective of ministry be?

  • Teaching, preaching, and healing are foundational. The ministry of the Word and the Spirit are primary functions of ministry.
  • Ministry, though, must be done from the heart of Jesus, the Great Shepherd. Ministry is not a one-time sermon or single prayer line. A shepherd continues with the flock, and provides on-going care, feeding, and ministry.
  • Ministry is also not a one-man show or responsibility. True ministry involves the multiplication of laborers: training, delegating, and releasing others into the harvest.

May God’s wonderful plan continue to unfold before us, and may we walk in it faithfully.