I alluded earlier to a pastor who played the "guidance of the Holy Spirit" trump-card pretty heavily. It wasn't the only such card in his deck, though. He could also point out to us that he had been studying Greek for thirty years. Nobody could match that. Most of us hadn't even been alive for thirty years.
(I reflect that now I myself have been studying it for about thirty-five years. But that wouldn't matter; were he still with us, he would have been studying it for sixty-five years, and I'd still be handily trumped.)
He was a caring, patient man, and indeed very intelligent and learned. But this had the effect of putting any possibility of challenging him out of reach by two removes : (1) the Holy Spirit directly guided him; since we had no access to that private pipeline, we couldn't question it; and (2) he'd been studying Greek since well before I was born.
This sort of brow-beating within a church isn't much of the spirit of Paul, who said, "Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith" (2 Corinthians 1:24). He didn't lord it over their faith, not because the Corinthians were so bright and stable (they were neither), but because they were a priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9).
The Biblical truth about the priesthood of all believers isn't a note from Mom, excusing juvenile, chip-on-the-shoulder rebels from respecting Divinely-instituted authority (Romans 13:1-8; Hebrews 13:7, 17; etc.). It isn't about authority at all. It means that each of us approaches God directly, and is ultimately accountable to Him.
A practical application of this truth was brought to my mind tangentially in a book I'm reading, Thinking Like Your Editor. The author is explaining how to make a good case, an argument. Her second point stood out: "All your conclusions must come out of the facts you make available to the reader on the page." She elaborates:
For every conclusion there must be a trail of facts available in the text. I mean on the page, capable of being independently evaluated by the reader (p. 130)She is talking about writing, but I immediately saw an application to preaching.
A chief way to avoid browbeating or lording it over a flock illegitimately is simply to lay your cards on the table, and let the case stand on the evidence.
I think that all of my hearers, in 30-odd years of preaching and teaching, would bear me out that I never base a sermon or a major case on anything out of their reach. Of course, I'll utilize the fruits of my training to illustrate, underline, add color and focus. But I'd be thunderstruck if anyone could ever point to a sermon in which I said anything approaching, "You can't possibly understand this because you don't know Hebrew / don't know Greek / haven't studied theology / don't have a degree / didn't hear God's still small voice like I did. You'll just have to take my word for it."
The training is a tool to use for my own understanding, and to help my hearers. It isn't a meat chub.
The honest and honoring approach to preaching is to lay it out for the priesthood to see. Make your case from facts in evidence. Lay out the texts, and look at them with your hearers. You're like an expert guide in an art museum, pointing out minute touches and flourishes — but as soon as you point them out, your audience sees them too! You aren't saying, "This is invisible to all eyes but mine, so you simply must trust me." Instead, you observe, "Maybe you didn't notice this stroke, this figure in the shadows, this perspective; but here's what that signifies."
Our aim is to be able to say, with Paul,
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:2-4)Now, do I speak to pastors only? Not at all.
You have been, are, or likely will be in the position of looking for a church. Consider this as you weigh preachers. Does he lay it out for you, in a manner befitting an honest man openly serving God by serving the priesthood?
Or does he base major points on mysteries, deep knowledge, revelations, visions, special in-depth studies, things you have no possible way of seeing nor verifying?
If the latter, my advice would be to head out the door, and never turn back.