“The Preacher’s Influence: The Pastoral Theological Implications of the Jeremiah Wright Story”

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Perhaps there is someone who wonders, in today’s world, “Can a minister really have any possible influence on the world around us?” Just check out the front pages. If Karl Barth was right when he talked about having the Bible in one hand and the New York Times in the other, then we might have something to learn today.

The video clips from various The Reverend Jeremiah Wright sermons are all over the place. And, in case you have been on the moon or on a self induced “news free” vacation, then you know that there is a problem. The United Church of Christ pastor has said things, taught things, that are, in a word, controversial. And that is putting it mildly. I have my thoughts about what he said. But in my prayers for our students this morning I am more concerned about the fact that everyone is worried that what he said, over the years, could influence a possible future President of the United Stated. And this is worth thinking about as a seminary president. The answer to the question posed, “Can a minister really have any possible influence on the world around us” is being given a resounding answer by the media, politicians, and according to some pollsters, even the general public. The answer is “yes.” If one is married under a minister, sits under his preaching for some period of time, has his children baptized by that man, brings his words into his own life so that he even describes his own life in a book with the phrase “audacity of hope” uttered in his pastor’s sermon, then, according to the common received wisdom, that pastor has greatly influenced one’s life. But I want to leave the alleged negative impact of Jeremiah Wright’s ministry and influence on Barak Obama and turn to your ministry and your people.God has placed you where you, drawn you to Himself, hid you in the hollow of His hand, prepared you under the tutelage of other pastor-scholars in that place we call seminary (literally, a “seed bed” for preachers) in order to cause you to shape the lives of human beings with, not your word, but His Word. There is a priestly aspect of your ministry, o Pastor, where you stand, as it were, with you back to the Lord and face the people with His Word, and then turn, with your back to the people, and plead, through our only Mediator Jesus Christ, for the needs of the people. As pastor your words and your life make a difference in the lives of others. It is for this reason, indeed, that St. Paul charged Pastor Timothy:Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1Timothy 4.16Your life, your teaching, your steadfastness in the Gospel, will save yourself. And it will influence, shape and form the lives of those who hear you. It will, in fact, save them.What an awesome responsibility. What a powerful position. What a humbling thought. What a remarkable truth. Thus I would close my thoughts with Paul’s charge from 2 Timothy.Follow the pattern of the sound* words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 2Timothy 1.13By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. 2Timothy 1.14It is not my job to tell you about whether Jeremiah Wright did this in his ministry. It is my job to charge you, our students, to remember Paul’s words, and to remember that whether you preach to 12 or 1,200, whether you are a solo pastor in Iowa or an Army chaplain in Iraq, you are a person of remarkable influence in the lives of others. 

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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