As a father to three little girls, the fourth metaphor used to describe the preacher from John Stott’s book The Preacher’s Portrait hits close to home. The preacher is first a steward, second a herald, third a witness, and fourth a father.
The father role speaks to the preacher’s love and gentleness. This metaphor is one of affection rather than duty. While the steward, herald, and witness are all roles that could be fulfilled (not ideally of course, but in reality) with more “direct assault” than “patient exhortation,” such is not the case with the father. The father has a relationship with his children, and this drastically informs his attitude, perspective, and approach.
“Preaching involves a personal relationship between the preacher and congregation…He is a father to his children. They belong to each other. And before, during, and after the sermon the preacher is, or should be, conscious of this relationship in which he is involved.”
Those receiving the truth of gospel you preach must know that you love them, and this love must be the context of your proclamation. The father follows in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who exemplified “incarnational ministry” as he married grace and truth (John 1:14).
This does not mean emotional dependence—the preacher must never develop a sense of co-dependence emotionally with the congregation. The minute he does this, he is building around himself. I think this was in part what Paul was warning of in his letter to the Corinthians:
For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:4-7
The love of the preacher as father must come from Christ and be for Christ. The father metaphor speaks to the love and gentleness, to the grace married with truth that must accompany any proclamation.
Stott lists several qualities that the preacher as father exhibits. The father is affectionate and understanding. He cares for those to whom he preaches. He is gentle and presents the truth of God’s word with simplicity. He has an earnestness with which he preaches, and he also sets an example for the flock. He is prayerful, approaching the opportunity to preach with the utmost dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
The US Department of Census reports that 43% of US children live without their father.
The results are staggering:
- 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes – 5 times the average.
- 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
- 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.
- 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average.
- 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.
In a nation where we have a crisis in the area of fatherhood, the preacher must take seriously the call to be a father.