I’ve noticed something over my 50 years of ministry that greatly disturbs me.  Before I tell you what it is let me give you a bit of my history.

My History

I began the Christian at the age of 16 ½ and by 17 I was preaching everywhere I could- mission houses, street corners, Baptist Training Union, and any church that would let me. I preached my first sermon on Christmas day at the age of 18.  By the time I was 20 or 21 (my mind fails me here) I was pastor of a church and going to seminary. So I guess you could say that preaching was in my blood.  And the reason – I knew what it was like to live in sin without the saving grace of Jesus Christ. I know what rebellion from God was. And like me, I knew all humanity was and is in rebellion against God and there is only one way to be saved from such a situation is to receive the truth about Jesus Christ. And preaching is God’s choice for telling the Good News. Preaching is about the Good News about what God did in Jesus. It’s not about how to be a better parent or how to save money, although Jesus talks about that. It’s not about meeting felt needs, although the Gospel does that. Ritual and even small groups pale into insignificance compared to preaching.  So, I believe that preaching is the primary task of the minister. So much so, that my routine was to have the theme and outline of my sermon done by Monday evening and then spend a big part of the rest of the week filling in with as many experiences during the week as possible.  It’s amazing how knowing early in the week what you are going to preach on that weekend colors everything you see and experience during the week.  It was seldom that I didn’t gather at least one real time experience to share on the weekend.

The Downgrade of Preaching

So that brings me to what disturbs me most about Christianity today – the importance of preaching is not only being denigrated it is being denied and deemed unnecessary. Whether it’s those who say that conversation and dialogue is what we need, or those who say relationships are the primary mission of the church; or those who say that what we need to do is simply hang out with people in their habitat; or those who say counseling is the answer; preaching is no longer the primary task of the many pastors. I know not all of the people in these various groups aren’t against preaching, but the essence of their movements do downgrade the primacy of preaching.

So I was thrilled this week when someone sent me a book by Lloyd-Jones titled Preaching and Preachers. I must confess I’ve never read anything by him before and that’s a shame.  The book is a fascinating, excellent read.  His premise is that Preaching is the primary thing a minister does. He gives three reasons: One, because preaching is primary in the New Testament from Jesus to the Acts of the Apostles; Two, because every major revival in Christian history has been accompanied by great preachers; and Three, because man is a rebel against God and needs the salvation that only preaching can bring.

In making his case the author bangs away at the denigration of preaching by relegating it to a back seat to counseling, small homilies, lectures, conversation, and dialogue. The author would have a hard time with the philosophy of the Emergent movement that puts relationships and conversation before the act of preaching.

He goes on to show how the central pulpit has been moved to the side allowing the elements of ritual to move to center stage.  He calls this “an abomination.”

He even attacks the argument of those who say that it’s no longer the 1950’s and people no longer come to church.  His response is that the reason they don’t attend worship is because preaching is so poor today. He goes on to say that even though it’s no longer the 1950’s nothing really significant has changed – people are still sinners in need of God’s grace and only Jesus Christ can save them. Therefore, the truth of the Gospel is still what is needed in today’s world.

My Response

Over the past 20 years of consulting I’ve sat in hundreds of worship services listening to hundreds of sermons.  And I doubt if I’ve heard more than a dozen good preachers, much less great preachers. Of course we all know the common antidote that we all joke about -”it’s Saturday and I have to write my sermon. 

Maybe Lloyd-Jones is correct – maybe Christianity is in trouble because preaching is no longer central to the church. There is certainly ample evidence that preaching does not get the attention it should either by the preacher or the person in the pew. Pastors are more likely to get fired over not visiting in the home or being in the office when needed than because they preach bad sermons.

Maybe one of the answers to the decline in Christianity is not the Emergent movement, or organic movement, or any other movement.  Maybe one of the primary solutions is to regain the primary of preaching. I may not always agree with the author but I have to admit that I agree with his major premise.

Where I agree with Lloyd-Jones is in his statement that the role of preaching is no longer seen by many as the primary task of the pastor.  Early in my ministry I had first-hand experience with this downgrade.  During college and seminary I was required to take a CPE course (I think that stood for Clinical Pastoral Education) but I was never required to take a preaching course. The thrust of the 60’s and 70’s was pastoral care and self-help books. Pastors began to function like chaplains or psychologists rather than proclaim God’s Word. Later in my ministry all of my peers are now required to take a sexual orientation course and still no requirement to take a refresher course on preaching.

So What?

Pastors, it’s time to make your weekly message the most important thing you do during the week and not something you put off till you can find the time.  It’s time to make it the first thing you do each week.

So here is a list of questions that I always asked before preaching.

Does the message come full circle to Jesus Christ?

If a reporter were in the congregation writing a news article for the paper would the reporter go away with a one liner for the front page when I finish my message?

What is the “What If” of your sermon? By that I mean when I finish do I always leave the congregation with how to respond to what I just preached?

Is the message about Christ or about me?

Does the message have one central point around which I weave my thoughts and the Scripture?

Is this message something that God would be proud of?

Have I stayed true to the Scripture and not abandoned the text?