It’s a fact of human nature that we pass on what we receive. When the oldest son is chewed out by his father, he’s likely to take a bite of his little brother at the next opportunity. Conversely, the lottery winner’s good fortune generously overflows to his friends at the pub. Good or bad, we naturally share the wealth.
Preachers do this too. In fact, it’s part of their job to pass on the word that they receive from the Lord. A humble minister who has known the tender mercy and compassion of God will impart the same precious blessing to the people, emulating Jesus, the high priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness because he was similarly tempted. He has become one of us – one with us – carrying our burdens and sharing our sorrows. So does a good pastor.
But preachers don’t always hear the voice of the shepherd clearly. In fact, they may hear the accuser more often, having been trained to his voice by similarly misled mentors. When the preacher feels guilt and shame, sensing that God is frustrated and disapproving, he will inevitably share that pain with the congregation. Here a great tragedy occurs, as this shepherd unwittingly beats the sheep, misrepresenting the gracious heart of God, yet in the name of God, and with all the official credentials of a man of God.
Good preaching is not always pleasant; sometimes we must hear things that are hard, but even hard words will be seasoned with compassion and gentleness when they are truly from God and delivered by one who knows God’s heart. When a preacher sounds frustrated or angry, we can be pretty sure it is because he believes God is frustrated or angry with him. When he is trying to impart guilt or shame, it is because he is feeling guilt or shame himself.
Guilt and shame are not the gospel; they are not the ways God inspires and motivates his children to become like him. We must guard our hearts from these lies and learn to recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice. When we know his voice in our inner man, we can discern it in another man, and we will learn to be selective in who we listen to.