By J. Paul
Proverbs 4:23 sounds the caution, “Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life.” What is the application of this for the one so often absorbed in the task of application? In The Heart of the Preacher, long-term homiletician Rick Reed seeks to bring this challenge to bear upon the pastoral life.
“Preaching is hard work”, Reed writes (p. xv). And yet, its challenge arises not so much from “the rigor required to exegete a text, the thinking needed to discern the main message, the skill involved in crafting a clear and compelling outline, or even the energy necessary to communicate with authentic passion.” Rather, the hardest work, writes Reed, comes in the preacher’s learning to do the “week in week out” labour of “heart work.” (p. xv-xvi). Preaching requires “heart work” in the sense that it draws at the deepest levels of the preacher’s character, often bringing to light the sins and foibles lurking in the corners of the soul.
In light of this understanding, the first half of the book is devoted to an exploration of the “tests” that come upon the heart of the preacher. A brief chapter is devoted to each of the following tests: ambition, comparison, boasting, insignificance, laziness, stagnating, speaking one language, fear, retreating, criticism, disengaged listeners, blue Mondays, and failure, respectively. A helpful element of Reed’s manner of approach throughout this section is the way he consistently frames these as “tests” as opportunities to grow in grace and godliness, not reasons to despair.
Part two turns to consider the positive practices of “soul care” necessary for faithfulness in preaching ministry. This section offers some insight into areas like the preparation of prayer, “staying on the expository path”, and practicing one’s security in Christ. It also considers some practical practices like valuing the feedback of your closest ally (spouse or trusted friend), rightly caring for your physical body, and even considering what habits might make the most of Saturday evenings for flourishing as a preacher.
This book is a valuable contribution on several fronts.
Firstly, Reed writes from a well of deep experience which lends credence to his words. The depictions of the battles of the preacher’s heart are at times uncomfortably familiar to those who acquainted with the battles and blessings of pastoral ministry. This almost painful relatability colours the grace and wisdom Reed offers with a deeply valuable authenticity.
Secondly, Reed’s own personal insight is well-grounded in and supported by attention to the writings and experiences of the recent Greats from the Christian tradition. Classic works from saints like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Owen, and Susanna Wesley pepper its pages, adding depth and richness to the book’s perspective.
Thirdly, The Preacher’s Heart walks a fine line. It manages to be brief without turning reductionistic, and simple without becoming unduly simplistic. It does limit its scope to examining the pastor’s heart only with reference to preaching. And while some readers might find themselves wishing for a broader focus (one that includes the pastor’s heart with reference to pastoral care, administration of the sacraments, or the modern malaise so often induced by ministry in a secular age, for example) many of the insights with regard to the “heart work” in preaching are worthy of consideration within a broader framework. As such it would serve as a valuable devotional aid and encouragement for those entrusted with the sober task of “correctly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
J. Paul is a pastor in the Anglican Church of Australia.