The late Dr. John Stott’s magnificent book The Preacher’s Portrait describes five roles that a pastor-preacher fills in serving the church of Jesus Christ. Whereas the role of the steward is a domestic metaphor, which “takes us into a house,” and the role of the herald is a political metaphor, which “takes us into the open air, perhaps a street or marketplace,” the metaphor of the witness is legal—it takes us into the lawcourts.
It is required that a witness has both experienced something, and then is willing and capable of giving an truthful account of what was experienced. Dr. Stott writes that there are two primary requirements of the preacher who acts as a witness: experience and humility.
The nature of experience required is not of much preaching experience, or advanced academic preparation. It is rather the experience of living in personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Without such a living relationship, the preacher is simply speaking about something that happened, or happens, to someone else, but not himself/herself. The “testimony” would at best be only hearsay.
Likewise, humility is required of the preacher. Stott writes that it is a “perilous” undertaking to stand before a church presuming to authoritatively speak God’s truth into the lives of its members. There is a temptation to presume it is your message, your words, your sermon, instead of your humble testimony to what God has said and done.
We preachers might do a better job of it all if we observed Dr. Stott’s requirements to our sermons, asking ourselves, Am I speaking from my own, personal experience? And, Do my words arise from a sincerely humble soul, or are they merely the expressions of a proud spirit? I would add third question: Have I preached this sermon to myself before I preach it to others?