I must make a confession. When hearing churches say they’re looking for a preacher/minister who preaches sound doctrine, I cringe. In fact, to me that phrase screams “stay away.”
Why would any preacher feel this way? After all, the phrase “sound doctrine” is in the Bible. Perhaps even more germane to preaching and ministry, this phrase appears four times throughout those three New Testament books commonly called the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 1.10; 2 Tim 4.3; Tit 1.9; 2.1). Yet what the Churches of Christ have historically meant by this phrase and what the Apostle Paul meant are two entirely different ideas. The former understood this phrase as a referent to church doctrine while the later had in mind healthy moral/ethical living (see these two posts, here and here, by Bobby Valentine). The real rub has been a history among Churches of Christ of denouncing as a false teacher anyone daring to question the assumed doctrines and practices regarded as sound (e.g., K.C. Moser, Rubel Shelly).
Thus, this phrase has often been misunderstood and misused. This is unfortunate because one of the great instructions given to Timothy was to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will when people will not put up with sound doctrine” (2 Tim 4.2-3, NIV).
One of the challenges of preaching and ministry among a church is to challenge in such a way that a congregation will continue to grow in faith. Complacency is a deadly sin. Yet there is not a single preacher in the world who can help challenge a church if that church believes it has nothing new to learn…no need for a change in the way it lives the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Does that mean that preachers should be heard and accepted without question? Absolutely not! Preachers, myself included, are not infallible and a church would be foolish just to accept what we preach and teach without discernment. However, churches who only want a preacher to preach and teach what their ears want to hear–what is always safe and without challenge–are equally foolish.
What a church needs from a preacher/minister is someone who will preach the word or as the Apostle Paul says elsewhere, someone who will preach “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1.23). This is preaching that serves to teach and equip the church to faithfully continue living as disciples of Jesus. Of course, this means that we preachers must be disciples of Jesus too. This is the challenge of preaching we have before us. It requires from both preacher and congregation a commitment of faith in Jesus Christ (not dogma but Jesus) and a commitment to scripture as God’s word to us and for us. But it also requires enough openness to he word preached that God, through his Spirit at work among us, can still correct, rebuke, and encourage.