The Priority of Preaching: Begins with the Preacher

There is no doubt that there has been so much discussion in recent history concerning what constitutes the best characteristics for the “Art of Preaching?” Much of the current debate concerning preaching is whether one is preaching “Expositorally” or instead, are they being “Topical?” I will make comments concerning the type of preaching that often finds debate around people who not a clue what they are debating. The more important question that should be asked is, “Should there remain so much emphasis on preaching?” In an ecclesiastical context in which churches are doing so much around various ministry programs and church services has a plethora of activity has preaching become something that ought not have the priority it once was given?

For this preacher the formation of this debate is theological and not cultural which most often focuses on style avoiding all discussion concerning the process of the preacher preparing himself or herself for the moment of preaching or even the content of preaching. Nor is it simply a sociological discussion around what makes preaching relevant to our current life situation. This discussion focuses too much on methodology and misses the whole focus of the placement of priority on preaching. This writer understands that there is a diverse amount of ways that one can deliver a message. The whole debate of whether or not one should preach in a way that that their audience would connect and understand the message can become ludicrous, and often a circular debate with people who once again are more infatuated with the style of their preaching versus whether or not they are even being effective. One of my mentors Jerry Cook has often said, “It is not my desire to be simply relevant but instead I want to be prophetic in my preaching.” This is not a play on words but a very intentional way of communicating that he desires to give every opportunity to penetrate the hearts of his hearers beyond the stylistic nuances of language or methodology.
So what about the priority of preaching? D. Martin Lloyd Jones when discussing the priority of preaching stated, “preaching is the primary task of the Church and therefore of the minister of the Church.”[1] He further argues, “Evidence from the New Testament itself, supported and exemplified by the history of the Church, leads us to conclusion that the ultimate justification for asserting the primacy of preaching is theological. In other words I argue that the whole message of the Bible asserts this and drives us to that conclusion.”[2] J.R.P. Sclater gave a definition of a sermon that ought to be inscribed indelibly on the minds and hearts of every preacher. He said a sermon is “truth strained through a human personality.”[3] Thus, preaching bridges the gap between the ancient documents containing the gospel and the minds of modern men and women.[4]
It is in light of the task of a preacher that preachers should not presume to do the thinking for others. It is the preachers who try to prod people to think their own way into the mind of Christ, and to stimulate them to use their imaginations in formulating his truth in terms of their own living. Every preacher’s message is the same as that of Paul: “Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

The issue of the priority of preaching is effectively seen in the life of as preacher and how that preacher prepares for their message. Allow me to offer three characteristics that are essential for making preaching a priority: They are:

1. First, the preacher is taking the time for him or her to be cut by the “Word” in order to release a passion for its message.

The Word is a two-edged sword and that sword needs to cut the preacher before it cuts the hearers. So many preachers simply download a sermon from a Rick Warren or some other popular preacher and just get up and deliver its message. I understand that my goal is to be anointed and not just creatively original. There are no new ideas and learning from others and using illustrations or principles are not wrong as long as that is all you have done. I as a preacher must engage the text in such a way. That allows its message to marinade in my soul. John Maxwell has declared for years, “We teach what we know, but we reproduce who we are.” In other words, a preacher does not preach simply for knowledge but rather for change. Embracing this change for himself or herself must be in the heart of a preacher. Emil Ludwig, noted for writing the biographies of famous men, once said, “that if an author hopes to make his subject live he must live with him, think with him, eat with him.” He went on to say, “Unless you have a certain mad, furious and passionate relationship to your subject, you can never make him live in the minds of others.”[5] Preachers who hope to make Christ live for others must go through a similar experience. They must live with Christ, think with him, commune with him, until they come to understand him in terms of their own needs. Haddon Robinson, when giving his definition of expository preaching goes on to say, “That the truth of a passage of Scripture must be applied to the personality and experience of the preacher before its message is delivered.”[6] This places God’s dealing with the preacher at the center of the process of preaching.

2. Second, the preacher is taking the time to find what the one overarching application principle is that is the “Word of the Lord” for the congregation.

A pastor can have two or three main points that are being delivered but at the end of the message the hearer needs to be able to reflect and repeat what the main application point is for a message. We do not lecture for knowledge nor do we desire to produce more educated pagans in our pews. The goal is simple: “What is the Word of the Lord and in light of it how shall I live?” When addressing the issue concerning the decreasing quality of preaching taking place R.T. Kendall responds, “It’s not preaching “ability” that’s lacking; our greatest problem is the absence of God-centered preaching.”[7]The aim of the preacher is to do the difficult work in order to get out of the way for the Holy Spirit to do its work. In doing so the people not only hear the Word, but they also hear from God and fell His presence. The preacher has to contend before God with the question, “What is the one truth that God desires people to ultimately respond too?”

3. Third, the preacher is taking the time to process his message with others.
The past five years I have had the wonderful opportunity to be in partnership with great people that I serve with that has given me an opportunity to discuss and dialog about the messages that will be preached. There has been the notion that preparation for preaching is completely a solitary affair. The practice of getting one’s outline before others and having different sets of eyes helps me as a communicator do three things well: a) Have my thinking shaped by others who may see things I do not see; b) learn from others different ways of communicating that can assist me in presenting a passage; c) the opportunity to model for young emerging leaders the sacred nature of the task of preaching that requires the energy that it does for presentation.
The Priority of Preaching begins with the Preacher and his preparation. In closing this blog allow me to encourage you with this final thought: Good preaching is designed to create tensions inside the consciences of men between what they are and do and what they know they ought to be and do. In the past these tensions resulted not only in transformed lives but in transformed societies. This kind of preaching requires that the whole personality of the preacher has their own theological thinking in tension in order that they can be free to preach understanding that an infinite God uses finite frail humanity to communicate a transforming message. And every preacher said, “Lord, Cut me with your Word before I ever preach it.”

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers.( Michigan: Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1971) p 26.
[2] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, p 26.
[3] IIion T. Jones, Principles and Practices of Preaching. (Tennessee: Nashville, Abingdon, 1956) p 20.
[4] IIion T. Jones, p 21.
[5] Quoted by Halford E. Luccock in Christianity and the Individual, p 164.
[6] Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. (Michigan: Grand Rapids, Baker, 1980) p 24.
[7] R.T. Kendall, Word Spirit to the People: What will it take to get back to preaching that results in people wanting to “talk about God”?, (Ministry Today, July/August, 2012) p 15.

About PastorAl

Al Soto has been married to his incredible wife Valerie for 30 years and they have five sons and one grandson. Al has been in Local Church Ministry for 35 years as both as a Lead Pastor, Associate Pastor, and for five years as a Regional Overseer for his denomination. He has a BA degree from LIFE Pacific College and is currently completing an MA in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Vanguard University. He currently resides in Lincoln, CA where he is the new Lead Pastor for one of the Campus locations for Bayside Church. He continues to coach High School Football for the Lincoln Fighting Zebras for the Junior Varsity Program and is facilitating Leadership training and coaching as well as facilitating Spiritual Retreats. His hobbies include Golfing and Scuba Diving as well as he is a veracious reader. His Life Statement is “Real Success is Helping others to Succeed!”
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