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Preaching Must Be Number One


Preaching Must Be Number o­ne
By William Self, Pastor, Johns Creek Baptist Church

“The church is dead.” This was the cry of the mid-sixties. There were many who talked about problems inthe church’s organization, its attitude, its theology, and its tradition. I found o­nly o­ne book that placed the focus of the problem where it ought to be. Helmut Thielicke’s The Trouble with the Church placed the blame squarely o­n the pulpit. The church is dead because the pulpit is dead. The church is o­nly alive where the pulpit is alive.

Why is the pulpit dead? There is a loss of confidence in the effectiveness of preaching. Donald Miller, author of The Way to Biblical Preaching, said, “If Protestantism ever dies with a dagger in its back, the dagger will be the Protestant sermon.” Many good pastors preach routine sermons expecting and receiving o­nly a few positive results.

How did this happen? Congregations have systematically added to the role of the local parish minister to the point that there is little time for study or prayer. They talk about wanting effective pulpit work and a significant worship encounter, but they play an effective game of demanding personal services and asking that the minister jump to their tune. Ministers assert that preaching is primary, but they may give time to it o­nly after filling the roles of administrator, pastor, priest, and organizer, according to Samuel Blizzard. The minister may find it easier to visit than to organize, to attend committee meetings than to wrestle with ideas, study, struggle in prayer, and preach the gospel. This is no plea that the pastor become invisible six days a week and incomprehensible o­n the seventh, but I do wish to express a strong concern—everything scheduledfrom Sunday noonto Saturday night takes away frompreparation to stand before the congregation and preach from the heart.

What is preaching anyway? Preaching is not just “religious talk” in which o­ne person gives views o­n theological, psychological, sociological, and philosophical subjects, nor is it public speaking with a religious flavor which degenerates into some talk about God.The famed Andrew Blackwood has defined preaching as “divine truth voiced by a chosen personality to meet human need.”

Preaching is God talking. God is not so much the object as the source of Christian preaching. Thus, preaching is speech by God rather than speech about God. This begins to make the weight of understanding preaching very heavy. The preacher carries God’s Word to the people. The preacher is God’s ambassador. In true preaching, the preacher does more than just speak about the mighty deeds of God for our salvation. The preacher speaks in order that God may say these things himself. Ideally, preaching is an event in which God acts.

Those who see preaching as the primary function of their role have a good example in Jesus. He was a healer, counselor, and teacher. However, he obviously gave preaching the central place in his ministry. The gospel writers continually affirm that Jesus came preaching. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God … for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43, RSV).

Let us also remember that Jesus sent his disciples “through the villages, preaching the gospel” (Luke 9:6, RSV). When the pastor stands to preach,it is done in the tradition of the prophets and the company of the apostles. The emphasis of the church through the years has been o­n preaching. “How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14, KJV). There is not now nor has there ever been an acceptable substitute for Christian preaching.

When we stand to preach, we stand in the tradition of John Wesley whose assailants dropped stones from their hands as he preached and said, “See, he shines! He glistens!”

We stand with Arthur Mursell of Aberdeen whose congregation “seemed to burst into flame,” as reported the British Weekly after o­ne of his sermons.

We stand with Jonathan Edwards, the mightiest philosophical intellect of the American pulpit, standing up with a candle in o­ne hand and a manuscript held before his dim eyes with the other. Pastor, there will come a day when we shall stand before the great white throne, and from its midst there shall sound a voice like unto that of the Son of God, asking, “I gave you my gospel, what did you do with it?” Our day demands preaching. People are not weary of the gospel; they rarely hear the gospel. People are not weary of preaching; they rarely hear preaching. The pulpit is stronger and the church is freer when its pulpit is free. We have seen that words can move men and women. We have o­nly to recall Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, crying out, “I have a dream,” in a memorable address in Washington, DC, or Billy Graham’s ability to fill stadiums around the world as examples of great preaching with words thattranscend allpictures. Charles Spurgeon said, “If there be a place under high heaven more holy than another, it is the pulpit whence the gospel is preached.” Pastor, set yourself o­n fire and people will come to see you burn. People long to hear the authentic word served from the warm heart of an authentic servant of God.

The Blessing Cup: Prayer-rituals for Families and Groups

Contains mini-worship services for special occasions and for the seasons of the church year. Rock Travniker (St. Anthony Messenger Press, August 2002).

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