Archive for ‘Preaching’


Calvin’s Company of Pastors

I gather monthly with a group of like-minded pastors for fellowship and to discuss pastoral ministry.


Lately we’ve been reading together Scott Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford UP, 2013).  This is from the Epilogue:


The task of the historian is not simply that of an antiquarian who dusts off ancient artifacts that are roped off from the general public with a sign reading ‘do not touch.’  The study of religious history invites, even compels, us to investigate the past with an eye toward the present, to explore the foreignness of history with the expectation that ‘cultural immersion’ of this sort will not only expand our knowledge of peoples and events but also enrich our experience by providing needed perspective, timely wisdom, apt warnings, and precious glimpses into the failings, the beauty, and the sheer complexity of the human condition.

Manetsch then provides four final observations and insights for pastoral life today gleaned from its practice back then.

(1) “The vocation of Christian ministry is a difficult one.”   “Pastoral effectiveness in Geneva required courage, a clear sense of vocation, thick skin, a generous dose of humility, and solid Christian faith.”

(2) “The importance of accountability and collegiality in pastoral work.”  “Contemporary Protestantism, with its infatuation for robust individualism, celebrity preachers, and ministry empires, has much to learn from the example of Geneva’s church.”

(3) “The leading role that the Scriptures played in Calvin’s Reformation, suggesting the central importance of God’s Word for Christian renewal in our own day.”

(4) “The ministry of pastoral care.”  “In our modern world where men and women so often struggle with spiritual dislocation, fractured relationships, and deep-seated loneliness, Calvin’s vision for pastoral oversight that includes gospel proclamation and intense relational ministry appears especially relevant and important.”


Pastor Moses

I’m finishing up Deuteronomy this Sunday and coming to the end of 10 years in the Pentateuch.  It’s actually kind of emotional.


In the conclusion of his commentary on Deuteronomy, Dan Block draws several lessons for pastoral ministry from Moses’ life:

The pastoral ministry of Moses is paradigmatic.  All who are called to divine service should surely emulate his passion for the agenda to which God has called them, his determination to preach only in accordance with the revealed will of God, his plea for gratitude for the grace of God in salvation and providential care, his call for wholehearted and full-bodied obedience to God’s will as the proper response to divine grace, his realistic view of his congregation, his vision of the church in God’s program of salvation for the world (Deut. 26:19), his refusal to erect monuments in his own honor, and his confidence in God to do his work by his means.  The flavor of ministry that arises from these commitments differs greatly from the self-serving, egotistical, and pandering paradigm of ministry that drives so much of the evangelical world.

Daniel I. Block, Deuteronomy, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 817-18.


The Era of the Spoken Word Is Not Over

Sometimes we are told that preaching is outmoded.  Once, in an age of grandiloquent speechmakers, it made sense to ascend an aged pulpit and preach a lengthy sermon.  Yet today we treat the homily with reverence, like an aged family member whose glory days are long behind him, but no longer see it as the centerpiece of our worship.  We’re in a posthomiletical age, which communicates in tweets and emoticons, not declamations and discourses.


The era of the spoken word is, in point of fact, not over.  Media personalities continue to fill the air with political analysis, dissection of sporting events, and the personal confessions of the podcast.  In such a time as this, pastors do well to reclaim their prophetic mantle.  It is not the psychologists, advertising executives, or life-coach gurus that should train the pastor.  It is not the latest sociological trend but the prophet, charged with the often-unpopular task of speaking forth God’s word, who should inspire pastors to preach with fresh power and zeal today.  The pastor, like the apostles, stands firmly in the oratorical tradition of the prophets, who heard the word of God and explained it, applied it, and commended it to the people.  The prophet’s ministry was a ministry of God’s word and hence a ministry of truth.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015), 55.


Preaching in a Post-Christian Context

From Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2007), 74-75.

We dare not be content simply to preserve the message; we must propagate it boldly.  New Covenant preaching cannot remain comfortably within the New Covenant community, speaking that community’s special dialect!  We live and preach in the redemptive era when the crucified and risen Christ sits enthroned in heaven as the Lord who announces: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’ (Matt. 28:18).  In view of our place in the unfolding of God’s plan, the preacher’s calling is not merely to put the finishing touches on Christians who are already biblically literate and theologically sophisticated.  Nor is it only setting straight Christians from other churches and traditions who need correction.  If pastors ever had the luxury of assuming that they were ministering in Christendom – that is, in a community and culture dominated by Christian conviction – those days are over.  We need to recapture the apostolic sense of gospel mission to the pagans, not only in far away pre-Christian cultures but also in post-Christian American and Europe.


Is Preaching Passé?

Here’s the unedited version of an article I wrote for the latest Illinois Baptist on the topic of preaching.

In his little book, The Priority of Preaching, Christopher Ash writes what every pastor has thought at some point – “Is it really helping when we spend so much of our week laboring at the word of God, preparing to preach it to the churches we serve?  …Is it worth slogging away preparing Sunday’s sermon with such a world of need outside?”  Maybe you are a pastor and you have doubted whether your preaching is really doing anything.  Maybe you are a church member who sometimes falls asleep during sermons and you wonder if there is a better way of connecting with today’s postmodern culture.  Is preaching a thing of the past?

We are far from the Puritan days when one minister apologized to his congregation for preaching a two hour sermon and they all replied, “For God’s sake sir go on, go on!”  During the era of the Baby Boomers preaching in many churches became a casual talk on how biblical principles can address felt needs, bolstered by the use of multimedia technology.  Many Gen Xers and Millennials are now looking for new expressions of church, and the very idea of preaching is being re-imagined.  Wouldn’t it be more authentic to have a dialogue about the Bible where everyone could share his or her own experiences and insights?

I define preaching as one-directional, verbal proclamation of God’s word culminating in the gospel.  And I still maintain that this is an absolutely essential practice for the church.  Why?  We see it happening all over the Bible (i.e. Acts 10:33-44).  That’s descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive.  Well, it is also expressly commanded elsewhere (i.e. 2Tim. 4:2).  But couldn’t the intent behind ‘preach the word’ be fulfilled in other ways than one person talking at other people for an extended time?  I certainly believe there are several different legitimate styles of preaching.  But the method of preaching is critical.

We need times when we bite our tongues as we are confronted by the authority of God’s word.  In an age of relativism and rebellion against authority, it makes sense why we don’t want to sit under preaching.  We don’t want doctors; we’d rather self-diagnose.  The idea of a wiki-sermon that we all have a hand in constructing is much more appealing.  But our great need is to hear, “Thus saith the Lord,” and let his external word rebuke us, call us to repent, make us ready to receive the message of the gospel, and then respond in faith and obedience.

Plus, the medium is the message.  Hearing a declaration of something that has happened, something to which you can’t contribute a thing but must respond to with either belief or disbelief, best comports with the gospel.  If that slot in the weekly life of the church is conceived of as a time for merely teaching doctrinal truths, then a pure lecture format is probably not best.  We should experiment with different methods, be more Socratic, have opportunities for interaction, and be mindful of different learning styles.  If the goal is simply effecting a lifestyle change – how to be a better parent, how to manage finances, how to share your faith – then we should consider role playing exercises, skits, worksheets, and modeling.  But since there is a constant need to have the double-edged sword of God’s word pierce our souls to expose our sinful hearts and then graciously present Christ to us in all his resplendent glory so that we can trust in him as our righteousness and healer, then preaching will always be indispensable.

Preaching is not the only thing for the life and health of a church.  There is a place for small group discussions and seminars and life-on-life mentoring, but preaching is an essential element.  The practice of preaching can be abused (when it becomes a chance to express one’s own ideas instead of expound a text), but that shouldn’t cause us to avoid its proper use.  Some preachers are more gifted than others, but the mark of a mature believer is to be easily edified as long as the word of God is being preached.

Charles Spurgeon said that God “has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers….  This shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land.  I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it.  The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her.  It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Churches.”  May he do it again today!


The Announcement of Salvation

I’m not quite sure how to think about William Barclay.  There are some indications that his theology was heterodox.  But his commentaries have some great stuff in them!  Here’s one from The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958), 214-15:

Preaching is the announcement of salvation; it is the bringing of the gospel, the good news.  Preaching may at different times have many notes and many aspects, but fundamentally it is the proclamation of the gospel.  The preacher may at times have to warn, to threaten and to condemn; he may have to remind men of the judgment of God and the wrath of God; but basically, beyond all else, the message of the preacher is the announcement of salvation.


The Preacher’s Own Experience Of What He Talks Of

A.W. Tozer said:

It is especially important that Christian ministers know the law of the leader – that he can lead others only as far as he himself has gone…

The minister must experience what he would teach or he will find himself in the impossible position of trying to drive sheep. For this reason he should seek to cultivate his own heart before he attempts to preach to the hearts of others…

If he tries to bring them into a heart knowledge of truth which he has not actually experienced he will surely fail. In his frustration he may attempt to drive them; and scarcely anything is so disheartening as the sight of a vexed and confused shepherd using the lash on his bewildered flock in a vain attempt to persuade them to go beyond the point to which he himself has attained…

We cannot take our people beyond where we ourselves have been, so it becomes vitally important that we be men of God in the last and highest sense of that term.

So true and so challenging.

And yet, wherever we are spiritually we will always feel that we have not yet attained all that we desire. J.I. Packer, in the preface to Knowing God wrote:

I do not ask my readers to suppose that I know very well what I am talking about. ‘Those like myself,’ wrote C.S. Lewis, ‘whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there’ – and so fool both them and ourselves.


The Main Meals

From J.I. Packer’s book God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible, 3rd. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), p. 123:

The New Testament pattern is that public preaching of God’s Word provides, so to speak, the main meals, and constitutes the chief means of grace, and one’s own personal meditations on biblical truth should come as ancillary to this, having the nature of a series of supplementary snacks – necessary, indeed, in their place, but never intended to stand alone as a complete diet.  There is something deeply unnatural and unsatisfactory in a situation where the people of God have to rely entirely on personal Bible study for their spiritual nourishment, due to lack of effective expository preaching in public worship.


Don’t Despise the Pulpit

I was looking at my copy of Charles Spurgeon’s autobiography and happened upon this quote at the beginning of the book:


We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears.  We have dire need of such.  Whence will they come to us?  They are the  gifts of Jesus Christ to the Church, and will come in due time.  He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, a time as fertile of great divines and mighty ministers as was the Puritan age, and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land.


I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it.  The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her.  It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Church.


I’m so wearied by all the creative attempts to stem the tide of Christianity’s decline today with some new way of doing church that doesn’t involve preaching.


Preaching Wisdom from Art Azurdia

Last week I was at The Legacy Conference and was ministered to in many ways.

One of the highlights was Art Azurdia’s message on Friday morning. That was preaching!

So I went to his workshop session that afternoon on “Spirit Empowered Preaching of the Text.” Here are some of the golden nuggets I got from it:

* In preaching we are not merely giving an ‘invitation’. An invitation is something you can accept or decline. Preaching the gospel is giving a ‘summons’ that to reject is to disobey.

* We have a foolish MESSAGE (the gospel), a foolish METHOD (proclamation), and a foolish MEANS (Spirit empowered preaching)

* A preacher is a butler, not a chef. You don’t make the meal, you just get it to the table without messing it up.

* Don’t share; declare!

* In determining your call to preach there must be three things present:
(1) Internal Compulsion
(2) External Confirmation – (a) gifts; (b) character
(3) Providential Opportunity

And he shared this quote from Spurgeon:

The gospel is preached in the ears of all men; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher otherwise men would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it could consists of the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the word, to give it power to convert the soul.