It has been my habit over the past two years to almost always have a book about preaching on the go. This year is no different. One of the books I read in January was John Piper’s: The Supremacy of God in Preaching. I make mention of this book because one of the chapters in the book deals with a concept that pertains to my new role as Lead Pastor of West London Alliance Church. If you want more details on that, and to see in colour how thin my hair is getting up top, you could watch the video of the announcement here.
The chapter in question reveals the concept in its title, “The Gravity and Gladness of Preaching.” Piper is introducing his readers to both the seriousness and sweetness of preaching. Though the author’s primary illustration of this idea would be the example of Jonathan Edwards, Piper introduces the weightiness of preaching by making reference to preacher and theologian Thomas Chalmers whose preaching was unadorned and free of overt displays but nevertheless was extremely effective due to “his blood-earnestness.” Now that is a serious word. According to Piper, as well as many firsthand witnesses, both Edwards and Chalmers were effective as preachers in some part because “the glory of these preachers was their earnestness–an earnestness that might be called gravity.”
But gravity isn’t the only characteristic that Piper believes should mark a preaching ministry. Piper also promotes that preachers should take great joy in their work. Piper cites Hebrews 13:17 which, in the ESV, reads, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (emphasis mine). Piper goes on to write, “A pastor who reads this cannot come away indifferent to his joy if he loves his people.” Specifically, he states, “Gladness and gravity should be woven together in the life and preaching of a pastor in such a way as to sober the careless soul and sweeten the burdens of the saints.” That’s it. Gravity and gladness.
And those two things that Piper insists are pivotal for a God-glorifying preaching ministry are the two prevailing impressions I have as I take my first steps as the lead pastor of West London Alliance Church, having shed the qualifying "interim" title after a little over 5 months. Those two things accurately describe my affections: gravity and gladness.
Gravity because the role I have accepted is one the Bible takes very seriously. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1 ESV). Pastors, according to the book of Hebrews, as we have read are given the responsibility of “keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17 ESV, emphasis mine). I am affected by the gravity of this calling and it is with that gravity that I approach it. I follow in the footsteps of a pastor who by his words and his actions has communicated to me the seriousness of this office. He regularly quotes Puritan Richard Baxter who preached “as a dying man to dying men.” That speaks of sober-mindedness if nothing else.
But it is also with great gladness that I embark on this journey; glad because of the great joy I take in studying God’s Word and the doctrines that are contained therein. And I love to teach people I love. And the congregation at West London Alliance Church are a lovable bunch who love to be fed from God’s Word. Do you see where my gladness is coming from? There is great joy in pursuing God with “partakers with me of grace” (Philippians 1:7) and with those whom I have a “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5). I echo Paul’s sentiments, “Yes, and I will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18c). This opportunity is full of gladness for me.
I am reminded of an illustration a pastor and friend once presented to me which illuminated the necessity of tensions which we so often encounter in biblical things. The picture he painted was one of a bicycle being ridden. A bicycle which, if piloted properly, required both hands on opposite ends of the handlebars. This familiar picture of hands on a handlebar communicated the less familiar fact that the two hands were in tension; and they need remain in tension for steering the said bicycle. If either hand releases its grip, the tension is also released. But then so is the rider’s ability to navigate effectively. And so, it is gravity and gladness that I grip as I begin pastoring at WLAC, and the tension between the two is part of the ride. The ride of my life I think.