Reed, Rick. The Heart of the Preacher: Preparing Your Soul to Proclaim the Word. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019, xx + pp.216, $13.99, hardback.
“Preaching is not just hard work; its heart work” (p. xvi). It seems apropos for Rick Reed to speak to this issue, a veteran of preaching and pastoral theology, with experience in the church and the academy. Dr. Rick Reed (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) serves as the President of Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada where he is Professor of Homiletics and Pastoral Studies. He was Senior Pastor at the Metropolitan Bible Church in Ottawa for fourteen years. He has been a plenary and seminar speaker for the Billy Graham School of Evangelism and a master coach for Global Proclamation Academy in Dallas, TX. He is a regular contributor to the “Ask the Religion Experts” column of the Ottawa Citizen.
The Heart of the Preacher is a timely and insightful book that every practitioner of Christian preaching and pastoral ministry will want to explore. It is a tonic for the ailing ministry heart and a preventative to the potentially unhealthy preacher’s soul. Reed’s heart is to “help your heart as a preacher” (p. xviii). His goal is to “pass along the heart-level lessons God has been teaching me over the past thirty-plus years of preaching” (p. xviii). He organizes his work into two sections: The Testing of a Preacher’s Heart where he highlights fifteen heart-level challenges. These tests – such as boasting, laziness, and failure “are commonly faced but not commonly addressed in preaching books or at pastoral gatherings” (p. xviii). Also, The Strengthening of a Preacher’s Heart provides examples that God used in Reed’s life to strengthen his soul to better proclaim God’s Word. These tests are God-honoring and soul stabilizing, for “while we cannot keep our hearts from being tested, we can take intentional steps to get ready for the tests” (pp. xviii-xix). Reed graciously invites the reader to join him in the demanding work of heart work (p. xix).
Concerning preachers with heart failure, “They didn’t lack aptitude or ability; they had a heart problem. In some cases, their hearts gave way to sinful attitudes and actions. In other cases, their hearts gave up from being worn down and hardened by the sins of others” (p. xviii). In The Testing of a Preacher’s Heart we see that God desires to refine the preacher’s heart, “He often uses the crucible of a preaching ministry to do it” (p. 1). In our preaching ministries we can become shipwrecked on many a selfish sandbar. How many have polluted their hearts from comparison, insignificance, criticism or ambition? Reed reminds us that “we are servants and stewards–not celebrities, we must test our own hearts, but not fully trust our own test, Christ will evaluate our motives and not just our actions” (pp. 7-8). When we feel the urge to boast “we must let the cross have a lethal impact on our innate tendency to glory in our ministry impact” (p. 24). The preacher will face disengaged listeners, Blue Mondays and the temptation to be lazy or quit. Nevertheless, “The God who starts us as preachers sustains us as preachers” (p. 121). We fail, we suffer, and we experience pain and though “while we may not be able to publicly explain our pain, we can publicly proclaim God’s truth” (p. 110).
In The Strengthening of a Preacher’s Heart, Reed focuses on proactive measures of heart care, “We must not only play defense; we need to go on the offense. We must intentionally fortify our hearts” (p. 124). Through communion with God, delighting in Him, repenting of sin and allowing His grace to strengthen, the preacher cares for his soul. Reed asserts, “If I had to choose, I’d much rather step up to preach with my sermon unfinished than my soul unprepared” (p. 132). The preacher integrates the whole sermon process with prayer, and he studies coram Deo – before the face of God. Fortifying your heart means having to right-size your expectations, listen to your closest ally (your wife), make the most of your Saturday nights (soul preparation, not sermon preparation), and don’t kill the horse (take care of your physical body). Reed encourages us to highlight our salvation calling before our service calling, for if we get the order reversed, we “actually become dangerous in ministry. Instead of preaching to meet the needs of others, we preach to meet our own needs” (p. 165). Foundational to all proactive heart care, “When it comes to motivations for preaching, we sometimes miss the most basic of all motivators: love for Jesus” (p. 201).
Just a few strengths of note. First, the chapter on fear was encouraging, specifically the fear of “freedom from notes” in the preaching task. Several reasons may deter us – “I want to get it right”, “I do not have a good memory”, and “I do not want to embarrass myself” (pp. 60-61). Reed reveals a grim truth, “The desire to connect more deeply with our hearers should move us to get free from our sermon notes. Our motivation is not to impress but to impact … Ironically, when tied to our notes, we actually draw more attention to ourselves” (p. 62). The goal is to internalize the message (thought for thought) rather than memorize (word for word). Second, in terms of leadership and vision, it is preaching that leads the way in casting a vision (p. 72) and “preachers set the climate for the congregation – that’s called leadership” (p. 73). The good news of Christ’s redemptive work is always at the forefront and a “gospel move” is integral to any expository message. This “gospel move” “grows organically out of the soil of every text we preach” (p. 74). Finally, a commitment to sound expository preaching. This conviction “will strengthen your soul to proclaim God’s Word” (pp. 143-144) and provides – more authority in your sermons (Word-based), more nourishment for your people, and more variety in your sermons (pp. 146-147). He rightly concludes that “the passage is not just the trailhead for the sermon; it is the trail!” (p. 149). Only one minor limitation, while there are footnotes, it would have been nice if the publisher had chosen to include a bibliography.
Where does The Heart of the Preacher belong? This book is homiletically and pastorally rich and most certainly in the preaching endeavor we must remember, “The rhythms and routines we follow to keep our hearts not only prepare us to preach, they do something even more important: they draw us closer to Christ” (p. 208). Heart care for the preacher is not optional, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Prov 4:23). This excellent work by Reed is recommended to: 1) the preaching novice, for traps to avoid and paths to follow, 2) to the experienced expositor who may be in need of a heart check-up, and 3) every homiletics professor as a companion work to preaching and pastoral ministry. This volume fits nicely on the preacher’s shelf next to Mac Brunson and James W. Bryant’s The New Guidebook for Pastors (B&H Academic, 2007) or Derek J. Prime and Alistair Begg’s On Being a Pastor (Moody, 2013). This is a must read for every preacher who takes his calling and his heart seriously.
Tony Alton Rogers
Southside Baptist Church, Bowie, TX