Some Thoughts on Preaching

This coming Sunday I will finish preaching through the book of James, the first book of the Bible I’ve preached through in its entirety.  All in all, it’s been a positive experience; I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly.  As a way to try to begin writing more, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on my experience.

First, the wonder of it all.  I can’t get over the fact that God has called me into the ministry.  Frequently I find myself thanking God for not only saving me (praise him for that!) but also for calling me into the ministry.  Being able to spend my days engaged in activities that are of eternal significance is a great privilege.

Furthermore, being able to spend countless hours studying the Word of God is a great joy.  The greatest honor of all is standing before God’s people delivering his Word to them.  I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that “Preaching is the most amazing, and the most thrilling activity that one can be engaged in . . .”[1]  I feel this way because, as R. B. Kuiper put it, “The church’s task is to teach and preach the Word of God.  Whatever else it may properly do is subordinate and subsidiary to that task.”[2]  Thus, preaching is a high calling.

Due to that fact that preaching is a high calling, it requires rigorous study.  As Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix explain, “The call to preach is also a call to prepare.”[3]  This brings with it many hours of study, prayer, and reflection.  Not only does one have to read and reread the passage being preached on over and over again, but one also has to form a number of outlines, both exegetical and homiletical, in order to contemporize what has been learned.  In preaching through James, I’ve been able to get a taste of the relentless nature of the task of preaching.  Although it can be challenging, it is a great joy to be able to have uninterrupted time studying the Word.  Hence, I can understand why some envy us.[4]

Studying, of course, is not all that’s required.  Prayer is essential.  As James Rosscup so eloquently puts it, “For preachers sensitive to His heartbeat, bent knees are as crucial to the kingdom as opened lexicons.”[5]  First and foremost, I must prepare myself to preach.  This happens by disciplining myself to preach to my heart first before I preach to others.  This is why Lloyd-Jones said that for preachers, “[The] most important task is to prepare himself, not his sermon.”[6]  Every sermon must be bathed in prayer, contrition, and a sense of dependence upon God.  While walking to the pulpit we should say, as Spurgeon did, “I believe in the Holy Ghost,” trusting him that he will use his Word to pierce hearts, quicken faith, draw unbelievers to himself, and edify the Body of Christ.  With such grand thoughts in mind, we can only say with the Apostle Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16).  This is why I agree with John Piper: “All genuine preaching is rooted in a feeling of desperation.”[7]  All the hard work is worth it, however, because we get to see people grow in their walk with Christ.

Second, the sheer terror of it all.  Preaching is an awesome responsibility.  Let us not forget that the call to ministry is a call to a “sacred office.”[8]  Hence Spurgeon’s words to his students: “Do not enter the ministry if you can help it.”[9]

Coupled with the greatness of the responsibility of the task are the two twin temptations of preaching ministry: Pride and depression.  Pride comes when we think we’re in the pulpit because we’re better than those in the pews.  Such a thought couldn’t be further from the truth.  As preachers we must realize that we are just as much in need of the grace that we offer to others.  I think this is why Paul Tripp says, “no one gives grace better than the person who is deeply persuaded that he needs it himself.”[10]  Thus, we must fight the thought that we are better or more spiritually mature than others in the church simply because we have an MDiv.

At the same time, preaching can lead guys into depression.  This happens because (believe it or not) a lot of preachers feel that they are pretty bad at preaching!  Unfortunately, this may actually be the case.  Usually, however, it’s just God’s way of keeping preachers humble.  What’s helped me is the realization that my preaching on Sunday mornings is not a performance.  I’m not performing for the people; I’m unfolding the Word of God.  As the Psalmist said, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Ps. 119:130).  That is my aim.  Thus, my commitment is to expository preaching, not entertainment-driven preaching.  And, as James Hamilton Jr. observes, “Expository preaching happens when the main point of the biblical text is the main point of the sermon . . . If [my] point is not the text’s point, [I’m] not preaching the text.”[11]  The focus on Sunday morning shouldn’t be the banality of our culture but “the brutal, bloody, hideous, heaving, crucified God-Man Jesus Christ.”  After all, “the center of Christianity and the center of pastoral life is the dishonorable, foolish, gruesome, and utterly glorious reality of the tortured God-Man, Jesus Christ. . . .  The closer you get to what makes Christianity ghastly, the closer you get to what makes it glorious.”[12]

Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers (40th anniversary ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 111.

[2] R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ (1966; Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 163.

[3] Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 13.

[4] Derek Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody, 2004), 101.

[5] James E. Rosscup, “The Priority of Prayer and Expository Preaching,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching: Balancing the Science and Art in Biblical Exposition, by John MacArthur and The Master’s Seminary Faculty (Dallas: Word, 1992), 70.

[6] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers, 178.

[7] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 41.

[8] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010), 24.

[9] Ibid., 28.

[10] Paul D. Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 55.

[11] James M. Hamilton Jr., “Biblical Theology and Preaching,” in Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon, eds. Daniel L. Akin, et. al. (Nashville: B&H, 2010), 199, n. 11.

[12] John Piper, Brothers, We Are NOT Professionals: A Plea for Radical Ministry (Nashville: B&H, 2002), ix, xi.


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