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Today’s clergy has a many-sided ministry. A small fraction of time is spent in the pulpit, yet this is one area where the impact of ministry is keenly felt. Although much of the minister’s time is spent with individuals or small groups, the majority of the congregation may only be aware of the pastor’s leadership of the worship service and preaching. People look on preaching as the most significant and most visible thing the pastor does. All preachers should be diligent in pastoral work because of its importance. But it cannot take the place of preaching or fully compensate for lack of power in the pulpit.
While some people would refer to preaching as an art, others call it a profession. Still other would say it’s a science. Unfortunately, there are those who make it a business.
The Bible speaks of preaching as a gift. The apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus about being made a minister of the Gospel by the gift of the grace God (Ephesians 3:7). He went on to say (v.8) that this grace was given that he should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make all men see. Paul was speaking of illumination that makes people feel something and see something. Paul saw himself as a man who had been given a double privilege-discovering that it was God’s will that all people should be gathered into the secret of His grace and love and being given the responsibility of making this secret known to the Church. Paul was the instrument whereby God’s grace went out to the Gentiles.
Preaching has been referred to as the humanly impossible art of letting God speak. This art of letting God speak only becomes possible when a preacher is first and foremost an interpreter of the Word of God. Proclamation of the Word of God brings enlightenment, knowledge, and conviction.
Why is preaching important? In Jesus’ ministry, preaching occupied a central place. He “came preaching.” In the synagogue at Nazareth He described Himself as having been divinely ordained to “preach good tidings to the poor.. .to proclaim release to the captives.. .to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19 JBPV). All the Gospels picture Jesus in the synagogues, on the mountains, by the sea, in village after village, amazing the people by His words of grace and the authority of His teaching.
The Lord preached. For their mission after Him, Jesus bequeathed the same strategy to His apostles. Preaching was His announced purpose for them when He chose them. At the end of His ministry, Jesus gave them the Great Commission which, according to Mark, was a simple command to go everywhere preaching the Gospel. According to Matthew, the purpose was to be threefold: to make disciples, to lead to confession and baptism, and to instruct in Christian living according to His commands. In the Book of the Acts and in the Epistles, as well as in the strength of the Church at the end of the apostolic period, the record of the power of their preaching is evident.
Good preaching is one way God’s Word addressed human need. Few congregations go through a week without some member experiencing serious hurt. The minister never steps into the pulpit without facing someone who longs for healing. A seminary professor was remembered as saying, “In every sermon you preach, have a word of sympathy. Somebody who hears you needs it.” John Ruskin described the worship hour as “that hour when men and women come in, breathless and weary with the week’s labor, and a man ‘sent with a message,’ which is a matter of life and death, has but thirty minutes to get at the separate hearts.. .to convince them of all their weaknesses, to shame them for all their sins, to warn them of all their dangers, to try by this way and that to stir the hardfastening of those doors.. .thirty minutes to raise the dead in!”1
As counsel the sermon will help to clarify life. If the sermon does its work, the problem is understood and the solution is also understood. The counseling focus of the sermon becomes real when the hearer is centered in the midst of the message and its truth. By this, the hearer is called to account. Biblical preaching is the wedding of spiritual truths to human problems.
Good preaching benefits the preacher. It is exciting to know that the Holy Spirit has used a person in the pulpit to help others. God anoints people to preach because He wants something significant to occur. Using the Bible, preaching radiates meaning. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, preaching radiates presence. To preach Christ is to offer a treasure that nothing else in the world can provide.
The extraordinary thing about the Gospel is that it has been preached and heard for nearly two thousand years. Yet, as long as people are spiritually awake, it can never be stale, Staleness lies in the mind and spirit of the preacher or the hearer. Paul spoke of the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8 KJV) which could just as well be thought of as the “unfathomable” or “inexhaustible” riches of Christ.
Some words of wisdom to the preacher were written many centuries ago by St. Augustine, yet they sound like thoughts from a very up-to-date workshop on preaching. “For a man speaks more or less wisely to the extent that he has become more or less proficient in the Holy Scriptures. I do not speak of the man who had read widely and memorized much, but of the man who has well understood and has diligently sought out the sense of the Scriptures. For there are those who read them and neglect them, who read that they may remember but neglect them in that they fail to understand them. Those are undoubtedly to be preferred who remember the words less well, but who look into the heart of the Scriptures with the eye of their own hearts. But better than either of these is he who can quote them when he wishes and understands them properly.”2
Sports figures, outstanding musicians, and artists dedicate excellent performances to people dear to them, such as their teachers or managers. How much more should preachers be able to dedicate each of their sermons to the Lord. The sermon should be the preacher’s gift of worship to God.
1 Ilion Jones. Principles and Practice of Preaching (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1956) p. 32.
2 On Christian Doctrine by St. Augustine, translated by D.W. Robertson, Jr. (MacMillan Co., New York, 1958) p. 122
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