I do not speak here as an expert on the subject. I do not claim to be a decent preacher, either. I am quite grateful that my congregation comes back each Sunday morning to worship the Lord through the proclamation of His word despite my inadequacies. The Lord is really gracious.
Yet I need not be an expert with authority on the matter in order to observe and mention that we have really soiled preaching. In many different areas. The content, form and from the listeners -what to expect. Almost everything that comes from a pulpit or pastor has “sermon” or “preaching” tacked onto it. Anything from very well theologically informed academic lectures to self-help pep rallies devoid of any substantive biblical content. We simply proclaim any message from pastors (or others) as “preaching.” Congregants have long been accustomed to sitting through some of these (I know, I know people may say the same about me) lectures and pep rallies that when, by chance, they do come across preaching they are not quite sure what is going on. Their first thought may be “who is this clown yelling at me?”
I’ve often wondered how many today could endure sitting under the preaching of the Puritans? Or the Reformers? Even the early Church Fathers? How about the Apostles? As we read through Paul’s letters it is obvious that he is not simply giving any cerebral message devoid of any passion. In fact he can get so passionate and worked up that he has been accused by grammarians of being improper at times. He sometimes does not quite complete his thoughts before he is onto his next point. It is quite obvious that none of his preaching was self-help lectures. One simply needs to read Galatians and Romans to observe how theological and doctrinal he can get.
We have drifted far off course. I think one of the real dangers is that we have too many academic seminary lectures coming from pulpits. Those messages would be fantastic for the classroom, just not for the pulpit. This may be from a reaction to the un-biblical non- doctrinal preaching that is found in churches throughout the world. We have become content with pastors that can not only spell propitiation but also expound it. Oh we rightly salivate when we see that. The problem arises when that is accomplished in dry and purely academic language. Instead of preaching that includes the doctrine of propitiation we are now getting lectures on it.
On the other had others that are not qualified to preach have been extended the pulpit and not only do they not like doctrine and theology they lament about the “evils” of it from the pulpit! They are more concerned with entertaining the people sitting before them so that they will come back each Sunday perhaps with friends. They want to be spoken well of; so the people are being doctrinally un-informed and expect all messages from the pulpit to be like that.
I recall the first time I heard preaching. It contained both doctrinal truth and was conveyed with much passion. The “man of God” was obviously pierced and moved by the Word of God; it drew him to behold the greatness of Christ which it was evident from the way he was preaching from the Bible. He even used “big words” but was sure to break it down for the common man. It was not a well doctrinally informed dry lecture. Nor was it a doctrine-less message aimed at making me feel good. No, no, my friends, it was more like a man who had been moved by the greatness of God.
J.I. Packer has some very helpful insights:
When I say, as frequently as I catch myself doing, that preaching is caught more than it is taught, it is partly of my own discoveries during that period that I am thinking. I do not, of course, mean that I regard Dr. Lloyd-Jones as the only preacher I have ever heard do it right; over the past generation I have been privileged to hear many real preachers really preaching. I am only saying that it was Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s ministry that under God gave me my standards in this matter. And standards are needed, for not all preaching is good preaching by any means. I suppose that over the years I have heard as much bad preaching as the next man and probably done as much myself as any clergyman you would like to name. Nonetheless, having observed how preaching is conceived in Scripture, and having experienced preaching of a very high order, I continue to believe in preaching and maintain that there is no substitute for it, and no power or stature or sustained vision or close fellowship with God in the church without it.*
Third, low expectations are self-fulfilling. Most modern hearers have never been taught to expect much from sermons, and their habit is to relax at sermon time and wait to see if anything that the speaker says will interest them- “grab them,” as they might put it. Today’s congregations and today’s preachers seem to be mostly at one in neither expecting that God will come to meet His people in the preaching, and so it is no wonder that this does not happen. Just as it takes two to tango, so ordinarily it takes both an expectant congregation and a preacher who knows what he is about to make an authentic preaching occasion.*
Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,
*Samuel T. Logan Jr., The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art (Phillipburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2011), p.2
* Ibid, pp. 4-5