Prominently displayed in every Chick-fil-A I have visited (and they are numerous!) are the words of the chain’s founder, Samuel Truett Cathy: “Food is essential to life; therefore, make it good.”
Preaching is essential to assembly life; therefore it ought to be good, or at least as good as we can make it. One-man ministry is unscriptural; so is “every-man” ministry, each male trying to function identically. Paul’s simile of a body (1Cor 12) displaying unity in the midst of diversity is a helpful guide in this matter. Not every brother is gifted in gospel preaching. His gift may be in ministering to the Lord’s people, or in some other capacity. But forcing someone into a sphere for which he is not equipped is as sensible as trying to write with our ears or hear with our feet. Perhaps some inordinately competent person could pull off this miraculous feat, but it would hardly be the norm. And the norm for gospel preaching is that those who have that gift should feel their responsibility and bear that yoke. This does place a huge burden on elders to be aware of those whom God is raising up – young men with an incipient gift who need to be encouraged to develop it. For those young men, some simple guidelines might be helpful.
The Lord’s Messenger
What a humbling and weighty thing this is – to be a messenger for the mighty Lord! Realizing this, the preacher’s aim should be to direct all attention to the Lord and not to the vessel. How fitting it was for John the Baptizer to direct his followers to the Lord Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). His attitude was, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). As has often been said, the true preacher is obliterated in his message – he is lost sight of, due to the overwhelming urgency and importance of his message.
The feet of such a messenger are described as “beautiful” because of his readiness to proclaim the gospel. “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things (Isa 52:7). Since this statement originally referred to the Lord Jesus, there is something very Christ-like about the work of the evangelist. He mirrors the heart of the One Who “must needs go through Samaria” for one fallen soul; the One Who stopped processions at the cry of blind beggars, Who compassionately touched dying lepers, and in the midst of excruciating pain, responded to the plea of a crucified malefactor. An elderly Scottish woman said this about Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s preaching: “He preaches as if he was a-dying to have you saved.” Do those to whom we preach sense the eagerness, the readiness, the longing we have to see them saved?
How important it is to make eye contact with our audience! Jesus saw the shepherdless multitudes; He saw the faith of the paralytic and his four friends, He saw the infirm woman of Luke 13 and the impotent man of John 5. His look melted Peter and His eyes must have expressed deep sadness when He gazed on the rich, young ruler. We, too, need to read our audiences, hoping to engage their minds in the message and detect those to whom God is speaking. At a crowded conference, we may ask someone to “save” a chair for us, but please do not preach to empty chairs when others nearby are occupied by sinners needing Christ. Chairs do not need to be saved in the Biblical sense of the word; nor does crown molding. Your audience does. Look at it and not that. If I fail to “connect” with my audience, I will likely fail to communicate God’s message.
Twenty-first century audiences are not accustomed to being yelled at. And how bizarre to think of angrily proclaiming what the Bible says is “Good News.” Without affectation or alteration, use the voice God has given you in a wise way. Drive truth home so that it sticks in people’s minds. State the truth; prove it by citing God’s Word; illustrate it by Biblical allusions or references to events happening around you. The use of illustrations allows you to better modulate your voice, and to give the audience a mental “rest” from its attempts to absorb the material you are presenting. In fact, you are still presenting “truth” but the audience is hardly aware that that is what is happening as it listens to your illustration. Most people cannot sustain more than 15-20 minutes of concentrated thinking. That affords you a very small window of opportunity to inculcate truth. Your sensible use of anecdotes and illustrations will help to extend that listening period. The Lord Jesus made use of current events (Luke 13:1-5). Stephen borrowed his illustrations from history (Acts 7); Paul made use of conditions around him (Acts 17). Go and do thou likewise.
The Lord’s Message
As to preaching, if there is anything more important than knowing how to preach, it is knowing what to preach.
Preach the Word
The gospel platform is not a place for our ideas and theories. God has a message for mankind, and we are charged with the high privilege and duty of delivering it. It is only His Word that can penetrate the blindness of the human mind and offset the mystifying lies of a satanically inspired age. Quote it copiously. Wield it mightily. In his natural condition, man does not know God and has not obeyed the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. We must present, among other truths, Who God is, what He is like, our accountability to Him, and His provision to meet our spiritual need.
“We preach Christ crucified” is a noble statement and glorious objective. A gospel message without Christ is like a well without water. If someone who knew nothing about the gospel walked into a gospel meeting where you were preaching, would she or he hear enough to know how to be saved? Make this an immutable rule in your preaching: ALWAYS present Christ to your audience. After hearing you preach, don’t allow anyone to go away saying, “They have taken away my Lord and I know not where they have laid Him.”
Preach repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ
How could we improve on the preaching of the Premier Evangelist Himself? He preached, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Similarly, Paul preached “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Readers who were privileged to hear the late Mr. Lorne McBain preach the gospel will easily remember his story of the bank vault that required two combinations to be opened. He applied that to these two elements in conversion – the sinner’s repentance and his faith. If we fail to preach the first and merely emphasize the second, we will send sinners into a death spiral of futility as they attempt to “be saved.” If our preaching is used by the Holy Spirit to bring them to repentance, their “faith” will be like the desperate grasp of a drowning man who does not speculate on how to grasp the life ring, but simply takes it.
In all our preaching, we must keep in mind the lesson that is taught us by Ezekiel ‘s experience in the valley of dry bones. Preaching was necessary; but it was not sufficient. He had to preach; but it required God to work for there to be life. We must preach – and we should strive with all our redeemed power to make people listen. But that is not enough. We must look to God to work for the honor of His Son. As Mr. Norman Crawford, a former editor of this magazine, so often taught us, “We must work where we can and look to God to work where we can’t.” Gospel preaching – what a noble, glorious, wonderful, challenging, thrilling, humbling, exhilarating privilege it is! God help us all to do it better for His glory!