London drew a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. He wore a black suit and red tie. Like Kid President. Beside him she wrote: He was a preacher. He loved Jesus.
None of the other pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. hanging in the kindergarten hallway mentioned Jesus. I doubt her teacher mentioned Him as she heralded Martin Luther King's passion for justice and equality. But spend any time at all listening to his sermons—I mean, speeches—and you'll see, there is no Martin Luther King Jr. without Jesus. We describe him these days as a civil rights activist, but make no mistake, he was a preacher first and always.
I mention that, because today when we think about world changing, we think about politicians and non-profits, about philanthropists and activists and community organizers—all of whom are doing great work. Unfortunately, I don't think today's young people see preaching as that same kind of world-bettering opportunity.
Christian schools are seeing record lows in students considering full time ministry. I read this in a Washington Post article from 2013:
"About 41 percent of master’s of divinity graduates expect to pursue full-time church ministry, down from 52 percent in 2001 and from 90-something percent a few decades ago, according to the Association of Theological Schools, the country’s largest such group."
Every summer my husband mentors a college student interested in preaching. These guys, most of whom have wanted to be preachers for quite some time, feel pressure from their friends (and often their families) to do something other than preaching, something that'll "make a bigger difference" in the world. They have few fellow preaching students (even at their Christian university within the Bible department), and already feel "other" because of their unique career interest. They tell people they want to preach and often the next question is, "Why?"
Wanting to preach is weird.
From now on I'm counseling them to say, "I want to do what Martin Luther King Jr. did." I think they'll get a better, warmer response.
It's not a stretch to say that. What Martin Luther King did is largely what preaching is—proclaiming freedom, calling people to action, waging war against injustice and evil and death, leading people into a better, brighter future by looking ahead to what could be and inspiring others to see it clearly and pursue it passionately.
Today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. I just wanted to take a second and celebrate preachers—people using their voice and influence to advance the Kingdom and agenda of Christ.
If you're a preacher, remember the potential of your craft, remember that people have given you their attention, that every Sunday you steward lives and callings. Remember that words change things, that they have power, that Jesus is the Word of God and you are His mouth. Choose your words carefully. Weigh them. Order them. Make them lovely and make them march. Remember to stir your church not just to consider your words but to act on those words; walk beside them bravely in holy defiance of deceit, death and darkness. Remember to lift your eyes, to look beyond what is and toward what will be by the grace and might of the Master. Lead your people to the mountaintops. Give them eyes to see. Give them wings to rise above.
If you're considering becoming a preacher, know, this is good work. It's not the only good work, but it is truly good. You will be called to step into people's lives in ways no one else will. You'll sit beside strangers on their death bed. You'll stand before crowds of people who don't know God and speak the truth about love at weddings. You'll sit down across the room from a man dying of brain cancer asking you, "Where can I find hope?" You will shape the way people talk about God and love and mercy and hope and marriage and death and disaster and money and religion. You'll listen to people saying the exact words you've preached to their friends, totally forgetting you were the one who said them, so internalized is the truth. The work of preaching is hard, like all good things, and rewarding, like most hard things. It's a way to partner with God to change the world.
If you have a preacher, if you benefit from the good work of someone leading you into Christ's truth, remember to encourage them. Help them see what God's doing through them. Lift their eyes to the value of the brave and beautiful articulation of the gospel.
And finally, whoever you are, be looking for people who need to be preachers, people uniquely gifted with vision, wisdom, eloquence and courage. Find those people and tell them to preach the Word, tell them to use their influence and voice to speak for God, to proclaim His message of love and hope and redemption. Tell them it isn't weird to want to preach. Tell them we need more Martin Luther King Juniors.