I love preaching and I try to love preachers! A person doesn’t spend forty-six (and counting) years of his life doing something he hates. At least I don’t think so anyway. Wisdom would compel you to take a different course long before the passing of over four decades. And at this point you look forward to spending the rest of your life pursing the same path. After all, it’s not everybody who gets to spend their life doing the thing that they love most.
Many of us who preach prefer to qualify our roles by the designation, “gospel preachers.” That is to say, we are not merely preachers who are defined by denominational distinctives. We are, or should be, heralds of the good news who hold back nothing that people need (Acts 20:27). We call our preacher, “The Minister,” “The pulpit minister,” or, “The preaching minister.” Jack Lewis has well said, “Our use of the word ‘minister’ as a distinguishing designation for the preacher also reflects the penetration of denominational thought and practice into our ranks. In the N.T. there are many persons who minister; but there are not one, two, or five who are “the ministers’” (Leadership Questions Confronting the Church, pgs. 58-59). A term long forgotten (if we ever knew it), is “Sky pilot.” Soon after World War Two J. A. Thornton released a semi-autobiographical book called, I Was a Sky Pilot. He said, “The term ‘sky-pilot’ is a slang expression for a minister, preacher, and especially an army chaplain; consequently, you can see the title merely says, ‘I was a preacher.’” Scripturally, there are many New Testament words that identify the function of a preacher in both general and specific ways.
I wonder sometimes if we have, in some ways at least, become the very thing we once opposed. In the old days a large part of the contention against located preachers was because it was felt that the practice fostered a “pastor system.” That argument was effectively met in debate, but I wonder if we haven’t seen it become reality in some circles. For a detailed discussion of this issue, see, George W. DeHoff & Leroy Garrett, DeHoff-Garrett Debate (Murfreesboro, TN: DeHoff Publications, 1955). A brotherhood newspaper article once came to my attention, describing a preacher addressing, “his 600-member congregation.” Such is the pastor-system thinking that has now taken hold in some quarters of the brotherhood today. How is the congregation his? It is where he preaches and teaches on a regular basis. Yet, he is under the oversight of the elders/shepherds/pastors just like any other member of the congregation.
We consider our preachers rather indispensable. A congregation will go for many years without elders because there are no men who are qualified, but they will not go very long without a preacher. Regardless of how little they may choose to, or be able to, support him financially they will not do without him. We will run ads in brotherhood publications looking for just the right candidate to help us. We will put out feelers in every way possible to find the right man for the pulpit that must not remain silent.
C. H. Dodd wrote, “Much of our preaching in Church at the present day would not have been recognized by the early Christians as kerygma” (The Apostolic Preaching and It’s Developments, pg. 8). The word that professor Dodd cited here is one of the Greek words for “preaching.” So, what about it? Does gospel preaching today bear no resemblance to New Testament preaching? As unsettling as Dodd’s assessment is we must wonder if it paints an accurate picture of preaching today. It should be of great interest to us to know just how closely our current preaching reflects, or fails to reflect, the New Testament model. And what does that model look like?
I have often wondered if the preaching alluded to by professor Dodd is perhaps more akin to what we know of as street preaching today. I remember visiting Mt. Airy, NC with my family in 2010. While walking the main street of Andy Griffith’s home town we encountered a street preacher. I was not drawn to listen closely to what he had to say. In fact, I rather preferred to avoid him. I don’t recall seeing many others gather around to imbibe whatever wisdom he wished to impart to the masses. Despite my being unmoved that event made me wonder if I was witnessing what preaching is supposed to be. If so, do we have the right to call anything else preaching? Does one have the right to be so restrictive in his views as to call nothing else preaching?
Today, preachers deliver “lessons.” A preacher will preach his heart out and people will say, “That was a great lesson today, preacher!” Did the New Testament evangelists preach “lessons”? It is true that preaching is speaking (2 Cor. 12:19), and this implies preparing and presenting lessons. I have yet to meet the preacher that does not, at least periodically, wrestle with what to preach from week-to-week. That is a problem that the preachers of New Testament times never encountered. What they were to preach was, at least in certain circumstances, given to them and they didn’t have to study (Matt. 10:19). They were sent to preach the good news of the kingdom (Matt. 10:7-8). Matthew’s account of the Great Commission does not use the word “preach” (Cf., Mk. 16:15). The eleven disciples were to make other disciples, teaching the ones they baptize (Matt. 28:18-19). Later, they preached Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23); “they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2); and, they “went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). I cannot envision anyone asking Peter, “So, what’s your sermon topic for Sunday?” I cannot conceive of Philip the evangelist agonizing over what to preach from week to week. And when the wrestling is over and the Lord’s Day is upon us we all want people to come and hear our preacher, as long as he is dynamic!
What is preaching? Preaching is the open declaration of truth which is written in the Scriptures (2 Tim. 4:2). More specifically it is the proclamation of the crucified Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 1:23; 2 Cor. 4:5). Preaching is an urgent appeal for people to respond to God through Christ by faith, repentance and obedience (Acts 2:36-38). As if we need to define preaching Phillips Brooks said, “It is not had to find a definition. Preaching is the communication of truth by man to men. It has in it two essential elements, truth and personality. Neither of those can it spare and still be preaching” (Lectures on Preaching, pg. 5). Gospel preaching will be successful today when, and only when, Jesus is lifted up before all people everywhere. That objective is still being accomplished even though the forms they are a changin’. The three-point approach that I learned at the feet of Tom Holland is giving way, in some quarters at least, to the one point model of Andy Stanley. Whether our preaching is marked with one, three or six main points may we never fail to give people something to know (Jn. 8:32), something to feel (Acts 8:37), something to remember (2 Pet. 1:12) and something to do (2 Pet. 3:11). Gospel meetings are built around the preacher that can hold people in amazement. We build our lectureship around the best and brightest pulpiteers among us. We thrill at our “Keynote,” and, “Special Guest” speakers because of their unique talents. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It just shows that preaching is inseparably linked to the human personality. People must be drawn, however, not to a charismatic pulpit master, but to the Savior who died for them, and who alone, can pardon their sins by his mercy and grace. Preach the Word, whether or not you are skilled in the craft of alliteration! Preach Jesus Christ and him crucified!