I have on occasions preached to 3 or 4 hundreds of folk on one Sunday and on the next sought to open the Word to 3 or 4 individuals. To preach in the one and same manner on both occasions would surely be foolishness in the extreme. I urge you always to be aware that within proximity of any local evangelical church there will be scores, perhaps hundreds of people who rarely will darken any church door. We will need to be thoughtful, imaginative, courageous, Holy Spirit dependant in the seeking of such - they are LOST and unaware of their DANGER. So to have a narrow view of evangelism being discharged through evangelistic preaching will do a disservice to many unsaved. However evangelistic preaching is a necessary part of any local church or christian worker's ministry.
Preaching can be considered as a fine meal lovingly, yet at some cost prepared by a good chef - well prepared, carefully cooked, interestingly presented, bringing nourishment to the diners. Because just as food is essential to our well-being so too do we need God's Word - Matt.4:4 - food which is often to be delivered to our hungry souls; or our non-discerning spiritually unwell palates; given at times as "milk" for young babes; in bite sizes for growing appetites; as "strong meat" for protein hungry adults.
1. The Bible and Preaching
The great fundamental truth of Biblical Christianity is - belief in the Revelation of the Living God to this world - our God has spoken - Christian students are not primarily students of the religious or philosophical notions of men - but must acquaint themselves with the Revelation of God - applying the truth as given to all aspects of faith and practice. God has revealed himself in Creation, conscience, history - general revelation ; and in His Word , in His Son - special revelation. God shows plainly in the Bible - that preaching and preachers are a part of His means of blessing men and women. Let me give you some comments by preachers whose preaching and writing have impacted on my own life:
- H.M.Carson "Preaching must be seen as a divinely appointed means of blessing, and so of eliciting from those who hear the response of repentance, faith and obedience." (Hallelujah! - EP-p71)
- Haddon W.Robinson "No-one who takes the bible seriously dare count preaching out" (Biblical Preaching -Baker - p17)
- Michael Green declares "By far the most widespread and commonly used form of evangelism in a local church is, and is likely to remain, the evangelistic sermon on the special occasion." (Evangelism through the Local Church p225) Green suggests that his reasons for saying this is due to people being on "the fringe of the local church" - parents of children; unsaved spouses, people who attend the Church festivals.
- Derek Prime in his book "Pastors and teachers" ( the calling and work of Christ's ministers) p109 urges the practice of weekly evangelistic preaching "my own conviction is that where there are two services on a Sunday, one should be evangelistic in character, recognising, however, that a service does not have to be directly evangelistic to be the means of a person's conversion."
Our reading of Scripture shows us that the Prophets; our Lord Jesus; the Apostles all used "preaching" as a means of delivering the Word of God to people. The Prophets were "forth-tellers"as well as "fore-tellers", though often they revealed future events, always they were declaring God's Word to people - their insistence about why they spoke was summed up in the phrase "Thus saith the Lord" cf Jeremiah 20:9. Our Lord Jesus must be our supreme example from Scripture and He is presented to us as the Preacher - Mk.1:14; Matt.9;35; Lk.4:18,43. He Himself sent out the Apostles as Preachers - Mk.3:14 and the NT bears ample proof of their preaching ministry after Pentecost. Paul who was of course a writer saw himself primarily as a Preacher. He believed that the preacher was like a Herald proclaiming a kings rule and message - cf. 1.Cor.1:17,21,23; 1Cor.2;1-5 cf 1 Thess.1;4-6,2:1-5,9ff; Rom.1:15;2 Tim.4:2. Peter likewise 1Pet.1:23-25. With the bible before us we dare not dismiss Preaching as an outmoded method either evangelistically or pastorally.
2. History of Preaching
When we cast a "bird's eye view" over history we can see that God has used Preaching and Preachers in evangelism and pastoral care of His people. Sometimes the preacher has been gladly heard, at others vilified but God has spoken. God has called, gifted and used His servants in the preaching and teaching of His Word. I hope that even if history of any kind is not your favourite subject, you will take time to read of some great preachers of the past and present - noting especially their evangelistic zeal - Luther; Wesley; Whitfield; Spurgeon; Moody; Billy Bray; W.P.Nicholson; Billy Graham; Bill Hybels; Stuart Briscoe; Roger Carswell.
3. Definition of Preaching
If you read books on homiletics you will find many definitions of Preaching. Stott e.g. defines "True Christian preaching as biblical or expositional preaching" p92 and his book "I Believe in Preaching" really evolves around that central conviction. Another helpful approach to a workable definition, which doesn't simply settle for a particular method of interpretation is that of R.A.Ward in "Royal Sacrament" causing us to reflect on preaching by poking fun at what it should not be
- "Take a few pretty stories, mix with some moral platitudes, add a dash of 'good will' and loving one's neighbour, sprinkle with 'church' 'kingdom'; stir well with United Nations, add 'salvation' to taste - place in the refrigerator - serve cold!"
Sadly evangelical circles are not much better served - preachers assembling their own ideas, "hobby-horses", interests, desire to "lay it on the people" choosing a text to merely christianise their oratory - using plenty of evangelical language to dress the sermon.
Ward sets out in some detail what he feels true preaching must involve :- "Preaching is the giving of information, the telling of Good News, to an assembled company by a speaker who feels deeply the truth of the message given him by God, reinforced either by reasons, exhortations, questions, uttered with conviction or by the manifest character and piety of the speaker, or by both, which under the ministry of the Holy Spirit, becomes a personal address by God to men and the sacramental offering of a Person, our Saviour Christ, to the congregation for them to receive by faith." Phillip Jensen in an essay in a valuable little book "When God's Voice is Heard" suggests strongly that preaching must be "the agenda of the Word". I like that phrase - we are all so easily prone to have "hidden agendas" when we preach - some idea in our heads we want to get into the heads of others.
This world of ours is full of " agendas" but desperately needs the "agenda of God's Word".
Let me suggest a simple but working definition of preaching :- "THE WORD OF GOD COMMUNICATED THROUGH THE PREACHER". It seems to me that this must always be our aim and burning desire - that when we preach people will hear God's Word - no uncertain note; no confusion of truth with half-truth or untruth, no mere ideas and notions of men, even of godly men - BUT the hearing of God's voice.
It is as the bible is preached that God's Word is preached. It is not the preacher's skill in speaking, nor his own observations on life, his own religious thoughts, his own powers of intellect, persuasion which make a sermon "preaching' - it is when "THE WORD OF GOD IS COMMUNICATED THROUGH THE PREACHER" you and I can speak about 'the historical Christian Faith' we do so not merely because our faith has a history - though that is true; nor because we can survey the development of Christianity in history, though that is true - BUT because unlike all other religious faiths we believe that God has in history acted in a series of unique events to uniquely act for the salvation of His people. Christianity is a witness to what has been done - we draw our beliefs, practices from those acts. We test and examine our beliefs and practices in the light of those events. We live between the past historical events of God and the concluding events of history in the return of Christ.
Today God is still at work, reigning , saving, keeping - our task as preachers is to remember what has been done, to reflect on such and apply the truth to present day living, in order to prepare hearts and lives for His Return. This will of course mean dependence on the Holy Spirit - the Author, Inspirer, Interpreter, Illuminator of Scripture. This will call upon the application of all my being - heart, will, intellect, voice, hands, and life if through me - surprisingly yet in a manner predictably as a servant of God - His word is communicated to my hearers. All other will be oratory - involving thought, passion, words, action but in the end oratory - words that might inform, encourage instruct BUT only God's Word communicated to the heart brings salvation!
I return to an earlier question "Why Preach at all?" "Why use preaching as an evangelistic method? Because preaching has always been God's principle way of announcing His will to men and nothing will ever replace it. Radio, T.V. Multi-Media; Books, Videos, Newspapers; Drama; Debates; Panels; Forums; Literature can all help to spread the message but as Sangster once passionately declared:
- "There is no substitute for a Spirit filled man, looking men in the face and speaking the Word of God to their consciences and hearts .... a personal God seeking the love and fellowship of persons , seeking, but by a person speaking to persons"