Every Pastor is a Translator

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  • It was my first extended vacation from the first church I served.

    I really didn’t want to take the time off. But, wisely, the men insisted.

    With my first Sunday off, I decided to visit Grace Community Church to hear Dr. John MacArthur, Jr. I would often attend the Sunday evening service at Grace. But I had never been there on a Sunday morning.

    That morning, Dr. MacArthur was preaching about the family. The conclusions he drew from the scriptures affirmed convictions I already held.

    However, for some reason, I became angry as I listened to the message. I felt that Dr. MacArthur, whom I had (have) never met, was being harsh, insensitive, and uncaring.

    These feelings startled me. Biblically, he did not say one thing I disagreed with. So why was taking this message the wrong way?

    My mind began to drift. Rather than listening, I started looking around.

    All of sudden, it seemed that I was surrounded by families. A husband, wife, and children sitting in front of me. Sitting behind me. Sitting on the pew beside me.

    I then began to understand what I was feeling.

    Dr. MacArthur preached a strong word to challenge the families of his congregation to stay together and be what the Lord orders Christian families to be. I felt he was being insensitive because he was not factoring in the issues represented in my congregation.

    But my congregation was not there. His was. And he was doing what he was supposed to do. He was preaching to the congregation the Lord had assigned to him. It was my job to explain the word to congregation and to exhort them to live it out.

    John MacArthur was preaching to families that needed to be challenged to stay together. I was preaching to single parents, broken families, and young people who had never met their fathers.

    We were both heading for the same destination. But we had to begin at different starting points, considering the different people we shepherded.

    That day, as I sat in worship, I learned an important lesson: Every pastor is a translator.

    Truth is truth, whether I experience it or not. And we can and should learn from anyone who is teaching the truth.

    But all preaching is venue specific. We must interpret, translate, and apply the word for the people the Lord has called us to.

    As a result of that experience, I determined to learn everything I could from John MacArthur and his church and then go home and “color” what I was learning to speak directly to my congregation.

    This is what every pastor must do, no matter what context in which you minister. Be yourself. Start where you are. Use what you have. Preach with confidence in the sufficiency of the scriptures. And trust God to do what you cannot do.

    We do not need to abandon the word of God to meet people where they are. There is no reality our people face that the word of God cannot reach. But we must speak the word to our people where they are, believing that God’s word will never return to him void.

    Do you agree? Join the conversations in the comment section. 

    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.