I recently heard someone say “that a preacher will go across the country to preach a sermon, but won’t go across the street to hear one.” To which I replied “ouch!” I should say that that’s not true of all my colleagues, but it has been too true of me. I’m working on it though.
During the worst days of the pandemic I decided that there was no reason why I couldn’t worship remotely myself and for an important season I was a regular “attender” at Love Chapel Hill, benefiting each week from Pastor Matt Leroy’s heartfelt and thought provoking messages. It was a godsend.
There’s no way I could be the only preacher you need or the best one you could ever hear. Even if your mom’s a good cook it would be a sad thing to go your whole life without eating something from someone else’s kitchen.
I expect you to listen to other preachers. I want you to. At least I’m trying to want you to.
The truth is that other preachers can trigger my insecurities (and that’s particularly true when their churches are close enough that you might be tempted to change your attendance.) It’s hard enough that I compare myself with those other preachers. It’s almost more than I can bear when you’re doing the comparing. So why would I encourage you to cue them up for your next drive home from work? Well, I intend, with God’s help, to overcome my insecurities. And I really am committed to your spiritual edification. And, fundamentally, I know that a lot of the value of my preaching to you is valuable because of my relationship to you. God can do all sorts of things in your life through a sermon preached a lifetime ago and a continent away (I’ve been moved to tears while reading the text of one of John Wesley’s sermons!) But there is something irreplaceable about hearing a sermon preached by someone you know, whose life you’ve been able to examine, and who is bound by the same cultural context in which you live. The real power of some sermons is not in the preaching so much as in the pastoring.
So, yes, I want you to listen to all sorts of other preachers. Well, not all sorts. And that’s the real point of this post. There are some preachers about whom you should be wary, some who are a waste of your time, and some who are far more entertaining than they are edifying. But rather than giving you a list of people you shouldn’t listen to, I’d like to commend some particular preachers to you by curating some suggestions from people I know and trust.
Reverend Abson P. Joseph, PHD, the VP of Academic Affairs at Wesley Seminary says that Steve DeNeff and Christy Lipscomb are some of his favorite preachers. Steve DeNeff showed up again and again as I quizzed Wesleyan pastors and leaders and he’s definitely worth a listen.
Michael Jordan, the Dean of the Chapel at Houghton College says that he thinks some of the best preachers preaching right now are Otis Moss, Tom Long, Crystal Kirgiss, Steve DeNeff, and Alistair Begg.
Dr. Eastlack, our District Superintendent and Joel’s pastor commends Steve DeNeff.
Pastor Joshua Tate, Pastor Joel’s brother commends a list of preachers who mostly reflect his reformed theological perspective: Toby Logsdon, Ortlund, Dever, Keller, MacArthur, Chan, John Piper, Dane Gordon, and Randy Alcorn. (Josh listens to a lot of preaching!)
Abbey Elliott, our director of Tech ministries listens to a lot of sermons by Steven Furtick of Elevation Church on her commute.
Keith Piontek, who was our summer ministry intern this past summer has John Piper for a companion on his long rides from Benson to West Rutland where he teaches.
And the Wesleyan Pastors Group on Facebook provided these varied responses (with, again, lots and lots of votes for Steve DeNeff)
Kyle Brown, Steven Whitlow, Alistair Begg, Brad Gray, Carmelle Fils-Aime, Jenn Petersen, Damon Richardson, and Andy Stanley.
None of these pastors are people with whom I would agree all the time and some of them are people that I would frequently disagree with. And I’m not even saying that I trust all of them. Some of the recommendations I’m passing on are of pastors with whom I have only a passing familiarity at best. No, I wouldn’t say I trust them. Or you. Or even myself. But I do have a lot of confidence in the Holy Spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit to make use of these broken vessels.
So who do you listen to? Are there preachers who you thought should have made this list?
Our annual Wesley Covenant Service prompted this good question from Lindsay Cote: "Deep question as a response to your testimony today: Can zeal be quiet? Does it have to be "on fire" or can it just be firm and resolved, moving forward according to plan?"
Perhaps you were wondering the same thing. I myself have often felt threatened, insecure, or just "turned off" by the zeal I see in others. So here is my response to Lindsay's question for your consideration.
"That’s a good question, Lindsay, and I grapple with it too. The Greek word “zelos” from which we get the word “zeal” is a word that has to do with heat, and that’s why our English word “zeal” has the connotation of fervency and ardor. Some of the places where it is used in the NT, it is used negatively. So zeal is a matter of passionate intensity. The thing about passionate intensity is that some people are more naturally suited to it than others, and none of us can demonstrate it all the time. In John 2:17 when it says “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me,’” the picture is of someone who opened himself up to holy flame and provided himself for the fuel. That phrase I used, “passionate intensity,” I stole from Yeats. In his poem, The Second Coming, he says at the end of the first stanza that “the best lack all conviction, while the worst / are full of passionate intensity.” It makes you ask, ‘what would the world look like if the people of God were the fervent ones?’ But the quality of steadfastness is also a biblical quality and Paul’s portrait of the idealized Christian life in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 seems incompatible with zeal. So here’s how I’ve come to think of it: you know how the speedometer on your car seems kind of ridiculous when you consider the range of possibility that it suggests? 160 mph?!!! Wise operation of my car would seldom ever give me a reason to go above 80 mph at most, right? But it would be equally unwise for me to allow, through neglect or modification, for my car to be in the condition where it could not exceed 80 mph, or for me to refrain from exceeding 80 when an urgent situation arises. For much of the time my commitment to zeal is not going to be expressed in zealous behavior so much as in a careful cultivation of my capacity for zeal. That being said, as someone with a naturally placid demeanor and an aversion to emotional extremes, I can not hide behind my nature to excuse me from my responsibility to be, in general, a more fervent person."
What do you think? Is zeal a required quality in the life of a believer? And must zeal always be zealous?
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