Articles focused on biblical preaching.

The Kind of Preaching the Church Needs

The church needs bold, biblical, unashamed preaching. Though most every church will claim they “preach” and that they preach the Bible, that isn’t necessarily the case.

If there is one thing that a church must excel in prioritizing it is not a building campaign, story-telling, TED talks, pragmatic growth strategies, or more programs. It is preaching. Real, biblically-saturated, passionate, accurate, counter-cultural, Jesus-glorifying preaching. That is the ministry that every other ministry flows out of.

It is through preaching that the stewardship of the gospel — which has been entrusted to the church — is faithfully dispensed to a lost and hurting world (Romans 1:16-17).

It is through preaching that the saints are equipped for the work of service and thus build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). It is through preaching that faith comes to the one who hears the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). It is through preaching that wayward sinners repent (Luke 15:7).  It through preaching — and, preaching the whole counsel of God — that preachers themselves fulfill their call to be faithful “stewards” (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Catherine Marshall once wisely explained, “The faithfulness of a steward consists in his dispensing to the household exactly what has been committed to him; the faithfulness of a witness lies in his declaring with honesty and candour exactly what he knows, neither concealing part of the truth, nor distorting it, nor embellishing it.”

When such an explanation of stewardship is applied to preaching, how can we not conclude that any church and its preacher is required to preach exactly what the Bible declares if it is to be defined as “faithful?”

I was recently reflecting on the vitality of faithful preaching in the church today and at least 4 “needs” came to mind.

  1. The church needs preaching that fears God

If we’re absorbed with fearing God, there is no time or energy left with which to fear men. But we’re human. So naturally, we’ll waver from time to time. All the more reason to be absorbed in fearing God.

Some preachers fear for their paycheck because their church culture is as such that they must preach to please men, not God. Others avoid words like “repent,” or “sin,” in favor of softer language that is less offensive. But such language is in the Bible, and therefore, directly given by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is impossible to preach with a deep reverence for God when busy catering to the mood swings of people or tip-toeing around hard truths. That is not God’s will for His church or His preachers. Churches need to expect their pastors to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It does not do a church any good to have preachers that are little more than puppets.

Jesus’ sobering reminder in Matthew 10:28 is fitting here as He declared to His disciples, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

The church needs preachers who fear God; who are unashamed and unreserved as they boldly enter the pulpit and unleash logic on fire.

  1. The church needs preaching that feeds them Scripture

It’s easy to find great stories, emotional manipulation, and cultural pandering in many pulpits today. It’s harder to find biblical preaching. A dear pastor friend will often exhort younger men to ask themselves this convicting question when assessing their approach to preaching: “Am I using the Bible to preach my message, or is the Bible using me to preach its message?”

The bottom line is: the church needs Scripture. No matter how important the financial needs of a church are, no matter what programs the church wants to push or what upcoming events need to be announced, the most important item of “business” when the church gathers is not the business of fundraising or convincing people to register for the women’s tea, it is the business of feeding sheep the word of God. Many practical things will certainly need to (and should) happen when the church gathers, but nothing is more essential than preaching.

Like those in John 12:21 who came to Philip with a request, the church must demand of its preacher: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

  1. The church needs preaching that focuses on eternity

Richard Baxter exclaimed, “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”

This is eternal perspective in preaching. A preacher should rightly ask himself, “What if this were the last sermon I ever preached?” Not only that, but the church needs preaching that points them to their eternal home.  The letters of 1 & 2 Peter are the embodiment of eternal focus in amid a chaotic culture. Peter places a strong emphasis on the fact that believers are aliens, sojourners, or exiles, just passing through while here on earth. Our citizenship is in heaven.

A faithful preacher doesn’t guarantee “your best life now.” A faithful preacher declares that your best life is yet to come.

  1. The church needs preaching that is fueled by love

On the subject of a preacher’s love, Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach quite another.”

Love is giving people the truth. Love is preaching with a moist eye. Love is seeing them as souls in need of their beautiful Savior!

As a young pastor, I was once in a meeting where I heard a leader refer to people as “giving units.” I’d never heard such a term but quickly realized that this how many church administrations view people. Such talk is disgusting for a preacher of God’s word and whether one realized it or not, such talk trains the mind to view people as a means to the financial bottom line. Yes, we can make projections and see families within the local church as those who support the work of ministry and allow that budgets be created and sustained. But they are never to be referred to or seen as “giving units.” They are precious people who need the gospel. And, their giving and spiritual gifts are the outworking of gospel transformation that occurs when God uses the loving and faithful preaching of church leaders (Ephesians 4:12).

In 1 Timothy 1:5 Paul reminds his young protégé in the faith, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Preachers motivated not by money or pragmatic results, but by love, are what the church needs today.

If you’re a preacher, may you fulfill your ministry with a heart of love for God’s glory and God’s people. If you’re a member of Christ’s flock, may you find and flourish in pastures led by faithful preachers of God’s word.

8 Ways Expository Preaching Changed Our Church

I was thankful to not be in the front row of class that morning. The famed old expositor leaned over his lectern with a glare. Tensions rose, and the air conditioner silently kicked on. Did the older man rise on his toes? Suddenly, with the growl of a mama bear over cubs, he roared, “Every sermon is an argument where I argue, and you must believe!” Then, as quickly as they’d lifted, the heels settled back to the gray linoleum floor. The glare behind the glasses softened. The wrinkled brow disappeared. The moment passed.  The patriarch’s grandfatherly tone returned, and he began instructing us on the 20th-century failures of experiential preaching, sentimental preaching, analogical preaching, cultural preaching, so on, and so forth.

I’ll never forget that day. Of all my years in school, that one sentence – along with the glare, guts, and ferocity – marked me for life. I’d grown up viewing preaching as pastor talking “about” the Bible. I’d attended a typical evangelical bible school and been told that good preaching was telling people “about” God. Thus, my pulpit resume came lined with quips about the Bible, a menagerie of popular theologies, and a boatload of emotional anecdotes. However, in class that day, the preaching “semi-truck” plowed over my heart –preaching wasn’t talking about God but speaking for God.

Faithful expository preaching meant that the Word of God is presented as the words of God. It sounds funny to write it that way, in tautology, but this was earth-shaking news. Every word of Scripture was pure ‘truth’ and ‘argument’ of God, flowing out upon people, forcing they either accept or reject His holy position. The light had dawned: expositional preaching was the only preaching that had any power. Faithful preaching could only be expositional preaching.

After class, I went home and began tracing through old books, writing out the family tree of historic bible expositors. I was ecstatic to learn that God didn’t speak with multiple meanings. I was humbled to learn that those who studied the grammatical, historical, and literary context of God’s Word could know precisely what God said. I was encouraged to know that faithful preaching wasn’t fancy. The goal wasn’t to be inventive or funny; the goal was to be right…God would do the rest! My studies began in earnest: What did the author write? What did the author mean? What are the primary verbs? What is the supporting syntax? How does it correlate to the remainder of God’s revealed Word?

Through tears, I learned that inerrancy demands exposition. If I believed the Bible was true (which I did!), I didn’t have a choice but to preach what it said. If I had an inerrant text, that meant God wrote it. If God wrote it, I couldn’t change it. Thus, my only option was to preach it. Exposition was the single type of preaching that brought the full text to the hearer and allowed the hearer to know the Bible. Only the expositor walked in the full assurance of God, knowing it was irrelevant what people thought, and only relevant what God thinks. People needed to hear from God. Our young church plant needed to hear from God. So, that’s what we did. And, expository preaching changed our church:

  1. Exposition Showcased the Authority of God. When we began to teach God’s Word in a verse-by-verse manner, people came to realize who was really in charge. John Piper well describes the danger of non-exposition, “The entertainment-oriented preacher seems to be at ease talking about many things not drawn out of the Bible. In his message, he seems to enjoy talking about other things more than what the Bible teaches. On the other hand, the Bible oriented preacher says, ‘I am God’s representative sent to God’s people to deliver a message from God.’ He feels the weight and the joy of his trust.”[1] As long as we are circling God’s Word, preaching the latest news clippings, hijacking from online sources, or pushing sentimental self-help fixes, people know (consciously and subconsciously!) that we somehow view ourselves as the authority (Ps. 19:7-9). However, preaching God’s Word in God’s way proves once and for all who is sovereign King.
  2. Exposition Spiritually Deepened Praise and Worship. People who know the Word know to worship. Instead of continuing our emotionally stimulating Sunday morning experiences, we worked to ground our church in the Word, emphasizing the depths of truth, instead of the shallows of emotionalism. In his short manual Why Johnny Can’t Preach, T. David Gordon cajoled the plight of evangelical pulpits, “Even when one can discern a unified point in a sermon, it’s rarely a point worth making, and certainly not worth making in a Christian pulpit during a service of worship.”[2] Pastors must be preachers, not entertainers. There must be a depth of truth that leads to the extent of praise. Expositors understand they are not The Entertainer, but the Worship Leader, informing people of truth that will drive their devotion. Exposition slowly turns the church from being a place where consumers our king to a place where Christ is King.
  3. Exposition Signaled the Lordship of Christ. Many modern preachers have returned to slick titles (e.g., Bishop, Pastrix, Lead) to signal their power over a church. In our early days, we tried all the titles, all the tactics, and all the taglines. However, expositors know that Jesus is the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:17). There are only two ways to lead a church – revelation or manipulation – manipulation works through channels of fear, money, popularity, curt maxims, or supposed signs and wonders. Churches built on forms of manipulation elevate the ‘holy men’ lauded, applauded, self-focused, and money-hungry. Not expositors — expositors have elected revelation as the source of church authority. Scripture, not influence, is the rule of faith and practice for their church, and the pastor is merely the facilitator of truth for the Great Shepherd.
  4. Exposition Synced Saints With Their Heritage. We found that modern gimmick preaching based on relevance, trends, and viral videos, didn’t connect Christians with their hallowed halls of Christian history. [Often, it disdains the past!] And, every time one of my “hip” trendy pastor friends flamed out due to finances or immorality, the congregation he’d jumpstarted in some strip mall or school gymnasium was left orphaned and without a family tree or denomination to rescue. Within days, his jaded people would disappear, and the church building sold to a condo developer. Conversely, expositors ground their people in the ancestry of historic Christianity, the progeny of patristics, reformers, and redemptive history. What Christian isn’t encouraged to find hundreds of generations have held their theology?
  5. Exposition Sanctified Saints by the Holy Spirit. We had to fire the entire worship team. Early on in our ministry, it became clear that many of our leaders and their spouses weren’t regenerate. There’d been professions of faith, but no possession of faith and the nasty fruit proved the reprobate root. Expositors know the Holy Spirit uses the Word, so only proper exposition facilitates the work of the Word to save and sanctify (Jn. 17:17). Jonathan Edwards famously called this spiritual surgery, “(The preacher) has put his patient to great pain, but goes on to thrust his lance in further, till he comes to the core of the wound. Such a compassionate physician, who as soon as his patient began to flinch, should withdraw his hand…would be one that would heal the hurt slightly, crying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”[3] Edwards’ point is clear; expositors keep driving the scalpel until there’s complete healing! Those who communicate around the Word (e.g., Joel Osteen, Judah Smith, Bill Johnson, Steven Furtick) are in open rebellion against God. Luther reacted against the Catholic Church because it didn’t speak for God. It’s been well said, “True ministers are brokers of one book.” By not expositing the Word, we undermine God and His heart for sanctification, because we neglect the very tool the Spirit promised to use.
  6. Exposition Submerged Pastors in Sanctifying Grace. In the early days when I borrowed sermons or composed anecdotal talks, filled with fad illustrations, and light stories, I (the supposed pastor) wasn’t being exposed to the sanctifying Scriptures. I wasn’t drinking of God. However, expositors know that weekly study becomes the harbinger of God’s sanctifying grace – He touches His man in the trenches of exegetical “spade” work – When preaching verse-by-verse, searching out God’s proposition, connecting doctrines of Scripture, the expositor will naturally find himself at God’s mercy. Have we not all begged God for illumination? Do we not arrive at a point where the pen and prayer flow almost simultaneously? A mentor, Dr. Steven Lawson, once told us, “Too many men cry out for more giftedness but feign the quest for more godliness. To write like Calvin, you must become Calvin.”
  7. Exposition Simplified the Tough Truths. When we were an entertainment-oriented church, we rarely touched so-called “tough” truths. As with much of evangelicalism, we were nervous the “tough” facts might scare people. But, expositors know that all truth, regardless of popularity, comes from God. Thus, only an expositor can preach every truth with equal vigor, knowing the soul-battle is between the listener and God, not the listener and the preacher. Alec Motyer writes, “Of the ninety-seven verbs used in the N.T. for communicating God’s truth – at least fifty-six are declarative – verbs like kyrusso, to ‘herald, proclaim’ or didasko, ‘to teach,’ even laleo, ‘to speak, chat.’ Our primary task is to make the truth plain!”[4] To this end, Paul encourages, “We have the mind of Christ…” (1 Cor. 2:16) How do we speak the mind of Christ? Preach the Word! How do we respond to questions? Preach the Word! It is alarming how many modern preachers dance around cultural issues like homosexuality. All they need to say, no matter the subject or audience, is, “The Word of God says…” Preaching by nature will offend. However, we are not heralds of self…we are heralds of the King. A holy God demands sinners repent and believe. If they do not, they will face judgment. That’s God’s message, not ours. Expositors don’t pull punches. Expositors know that if we don’t declare the things that offend the sinful, then we forfeit the right to report grace that makes cheerful.[5]
  8. Exposition Satisfied People in the Glory of God. For years my preaching was typical evangelical fluff centered on “you” instead of God. Expositors know “you” preaching doesn’t help anyone. Expositors know that when preaching stops being about the pain, struggles, platitudes, and depressions, and starts being about God’s holiness, providence, self-existence, omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, faithfulness, etc., they have a hope beyond the grave (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 5:1). Topical entertainment preaching is a band-aid that won’t cure. Jeremiah called this “superficial wound treatment.” People leave church pumped for an hour then can’t recall one truth in their hours of distress. Expositors don’t let their church slap on a band-aid of analogy, intuition, quotes, maxims, and humor, for their death-wound! Expositors want their people dependent on God’s revealed truth, so all their thinking is Christ-centered. Expositors know life will eventually imitate theology. People will live out their beliefs. People don’t live on emotion, but what is embedded below emotion. The fewer convictions a church has, the more susceptible it is to temptation. A sheep unfed has no strength to stand.

F.W. Boreham once shared a story depicting the passion of Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne:

Years after McCheyne’s passing, a young man visited the famous minister’s church. Approaching the associate minister, he questioned, “Where did McCheyne get his preaching power?” The associate took the youthful inquirer into the vestry and asked him to open his Bible and sit in the chair used by the great preacher.

“Now put your elbows on the table,” he said. “Now, put your face in your hands.” The visitor obeyed. “Now let the tears fall. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do it!”

The man then led the young minister to the pulpit and gave a fresh series of instructions. “Put your elbows down. Now, put your face in your hands.” The young man did as he was told. “Now let the tears fall again. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do it!”[6]

This is the way to do it. An expositor is moved over his Bible in the study then stands moved over people in the pulpit. Expository preaching changes a church.

Anthony G. Wood is the pastor-teacher of Mission Bible Church in Tustin, California and has been leading the church since planting it in 2011. He is the co-author of Defining Deception, and is currently completing his doctorate at The Master’s Seminary. Anthony and his wife, Breanne, have three children.

_____________________________________________________

[1] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015), 124.

[2] T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2009), 69.

[3] Jonathan Edward, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 4, ed. C.C. Goen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972) 390-91.

[4] Alec Motyer, Preaching: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching, (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2013), 103

[5] For an insightful explanation of ‘quiet confidence’ in preaching, see John Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 35-36.

[6] See F.W. Boreham, A Late Lark Singing (London: Epworth Press, 1945), 66.

 

Preaching Sound Doctrine Matters

Some years ago we did things a little differently at our church than we do now. We had a band that was filled with hired guns and we paid them to play the lights out every Sunday. To illustrate: our guitarist would tour the world with a famous boy-band, then roll in on Sundays to put on a show for our church – true story.

As far as the sermons would go, they were a mixture of some Bible, exciting and emotionally driven stories, and an ending that was designed to move everyone into an emotional response to the message. We were the typically modern, attractional, evangelical church. And make no mistake about it, lots people were dawning our doors. But they were not coming for doctrine – they came for the personalities, the music and the emotion. It was working!

This is why it seemed like our teaching-pastor had lost his mind when he suddenly got up one Sunday having “fired” all the hired musicians and telling the congregation, “If someone is musically gifted and won’t play for free, this church will no longer be a good fit.” Going even further he started preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible to grow our church in doctrine, and songs changed from the latest Jesus Culture or Hillsong hits to songs rich in theological truths. Emotionally driven services were replaced by the clear preaching of God’s word. Suddenly there were calls for biblical action out of love and obedience for Christ!

Then, there was an exodus. We went from being a brand-new shiny object – a fast-growing church plant holding multiple services and cruising through the 300-attendance mark – to suddenly having empty seats everywhere. Eventually we grew past where we once were, but this time, it would not be merely numerical, it was spiritual.

Sound doctrine (paired with prayer and patience) did the heavy lifting.

We Need Sound Doctrine

From big name preachers suggesting we “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament, to sermon series on mere behavior modifications from self-help books, to entire services being absent of the Bible but full of entertainment, the church today is in dire need of a strong dose of good ole’ fashion sound doctrine.

In short, doctrine matters.

Nothing else will satisfy the deepest needs of the human heart. Nothing else will quench the spiritual thirst of believers who have been transformed by the Gospel, and nothing is more true to the mandate of Christ’s commission in Matthew 28:16-20. Jesus didn’t suggest that someof what He taught be passed along in whatever modernized way His disciples saw fit. Nor did He give the nod to whatever methods get people in the door. He said that “making disciples” included “teaching them to observe all (emphasis added)” that He commanded (Matt. 28:20).

When the Apostle Paul was providing ministry instructions to his young protégé in the faith – Timothy – he hammered home imperative after imperative concerning the importance of sound doctrine! From that model alone there is no question of what a good minister of the Gospel is to do. We must be nourished on – and nourishing others on –  words of faith and sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).

What Exactly Constitutes “Sound Doctrine”?

Sound doctrine in the Christian faith is accurate Bible teaching. “Doctrine” can be defined as the central beliefs that are held by a group of people and “sound” implies that something is reliable. Therefore, when churches spend more time entertaining people and giving shallow sermons, they are not fulfilling what a church is supposed to do and be. We must be preaching and teaching the central beliefs of the Christian faith based on what the Bible teaches – regardless of how the world around us is changing. Like a reliable friend who will tell you what you need to hear vs. what you want to hear, a reliable church (and specifically the preachers) should be giving you the truth and nothing but the truth.

Why Preaching Sound Doctrine Matters

Much is at stake, but great things are in store if a church stops playing games and bolts the Bible to the pulpit and the pulpit to the floor boards. Sure, some people may not like it, but God’s word promises that the blessings will outweigh the backlash.

Let’s look at five reasons that preaching sound doctrine matters:

  1. It is Required of Faithful Pastor-Elders

Do you know a pastor-elder who doesn’t want to be faithful in their duty for Christ? Most of them do. Plainly, the pastor-elders who are called to be the servant-leaders of the church are failing their duty if sound doctrine is not the central focus of the teaching and preaching ministry. Churchstaffing.com does not determine a pastor’s job description, nor does any other agency. God has, and continues to expect His mouth-pieces to fulfill His purposes laid out in Scripture. Men of God must be faithful. The New Testament lays out the role of those who oversee the church in no uncertain terms (Acts 20:17-38; 1 Tim. 4:6, 11-13, 16; 2 Tim. 3:10, 14-17; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). God commands that His people be served spiritual food loaded with sound doctrine. A pastor-elder can be gifted in many ways, but he is only faithful if in all that he does he preaches sound doctrine.

  1. It Saves the Lost

Church growth from disgruntled “transfers” are a dime-a-dozen…especially in America where we treat our churches like restaurants and the customer is always right. But the real deal when it comes to preaching sound doctrine is genuine conversions that happen when the lost come to faith by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Of course, people transferring from a doctrinally dangerous church to one that preaches sound doctrine is wonderful, but it can be argued that few things are sweeter than seeing new believers come face to face with the awe-inspiring power of the living Word through faithful preaching! From old sinful ways to new creation in Christ, sound doctrine washes over the heart and mind of lost sheep, regenerates their soul, and preserves their faith (1 Tim. 4:16).

  1. It Empowers the Saved

Sound doctrine catapults the people of God into spiritual growth because they are building their lives on the bedrock foundation of God’s Word rightly taught and rightly applied. They are mobilized and equipped to live mature in their faith and protected from false teaching (Eph. 4:11-14). Sound doctrine empowers Christians to live high-impact lives because they are living out right relationships with God, fellow believers, and the world. A right relationship with God means a proper view of the Gospel and His attributes like holiness and omnipotence. A right relationship with fellow believers means serving one another (Gal. 5:13), loving one another (Rom. 13:8), forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32), exhorting one another (Heb. 3:13), and stirring one another up towards good works (Heb. 10:24)! A right relationship with people in the world means evangelizing them (Rom. 1:16), being a model in your Christian witness (Col. 4:5), and never compromising the truth (1 Cor. 16:13). It’s incredibly amazing what can happen when Christians are taught sound doctrine and live their lives for the glory of God.

  1. It Purifies the Church 

Preaching sound doctrine is important because it not only produces strong believers, it purifies the church of false ones. This may not seem like a very “nice” strategy, but consider for a moment what Jesus did to thin out the ranks of those who were superficially following Him merely for divine favors. Luke records Jesus delivering one of His toughest truths when the crowds were large (Luke 14:25-35). Jesus was dishing out free food, miracles, and wisdom, but the minute He pushed into deep doctrine and hard truths, it divided the real followers from the false ones. True converts love God’s Word, false converts will be repulsed by it. Eventually, as books of the Bible are unpacked and the glorious doctrines contained in Scripture are laid bare for all to see, a decision will inevitably be made by those who hear the truth. Their hearts will either turn towards it, or they’ll scoff at it and turn away. This is a vital part of a preacher’s duty in the ministry of the word. In doing so he is participating in Christ’s building of His church, which includes purging it of imposters.

  1. It Impacts the Future

Now before you imagine “preaching sound doctrine” as a sort-of boring academic forum in the church each week, remind yourself of what sound doctrine is one final time: reliable and accurate Biblical teaching. Preaching sound doctrine is may seem dull and simple, but it’s dynamic!  If the New Testament church was willing to bet their ministries on it, why shouldn’t we? The impact of this is exponential and powerful. When sound doctrine was taught in the early church, it exploded (Acts 2:40-41). If a generation of believers will preach sound doctrine and stand for the truth, they will be modeling faithfulness for those who will come next. In other words, they’ll be discipling the next generation of disciple-making disciples with the foundation they’ll need to glorify God. 

While many more important benefits can be added to this list, the fact remains, preaching sound doctrine matters – both now and in eternity.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally featured in Theology for Life Magazine (Volume 5, Issue 3, Fall 2018) as “The Importance of Preaching Sound Doctrine.” 

The Preacher’s Proclamation

An old sermon illustration that makes its way around from time to time goes like this:

There was a young preacher who was not lazy, just conceited. He frequently boasted in public that all the time he needed to prepare his “great sermons” was the few short moments it took him to walk from his parsonage, to the church just next door. Well, one day the congregation decided it was time to burst his bloated ego and help the man improve his preaching ministry. So, they bought him a new parsonage eight miles away!

Now that’s a congregation with their priorities in order and one lucky pastor.

In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon stressed the vitality of preaching when he wrote,

We do not enter the pulpit to talk for talk’s sake; we have instructions to convey important to the last degree, and we cannot afford to utter petty nothings…If we speak as ambassadors for God, we need never complain of want for matter, for our message is full to overflowing. The entire gospel must be presented from the pulpit the whole faith once for all delivered to the saints must be proclaimed by us.

When it comes to those who preach the Word, the church can settle for nothing less than faithfulness to the Word of God. New fads are a dime-a-dozen, the latest pragmatic gimmicks change like the weather, but one thing remains tried, tested, and true – God’s Word to His people.

The preacher and the people are both responsible for protecting the pulpit in the church. When the pulpit isn’t held in high regard, sheep become malnourished by fast-food style preaching that contains little nutritional value. When pastoral ministry becomes just another career requiring a beefy resume and social media platform, pulpits fill with hireling preachers who take a paycheck, wear a title, but run at the first sign of hard work. The church needs fearless heralds who will put on their work-boots, roll up their sleeves, and boldly feed Christ’s precious flock no matter what the cost. Like waterless clouds that produce no rain, so is the preacher who makes a proclamation to people but fails to preach God’s Word. When there is no divine food for the soul, there will be spiritual famine in the land.

The preacher must proclaim the truth and the people must proclaim, “We want the truth! And nothing but the truth!”

When the Apostle Paul provided young Timothy with one of the first handbooks on preaching – and boy, is it ever still a best-seller – he gave him timeless wisdom that we must still heed today. Throughout the pastoral letters, Paul gives numerous imperatives that every preacher should pay close attention to, but five of these can prove immensely useful in governing the preacher’s proclamation. These imperative commands are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and through them, we are given the greatest church growth strategy this world has ever known, that is, spiritual growth.

1. Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2a)

Paul was never one to mince words when it came to the message. In his mind, preaching was to be unadulterated, Christ-centered, Gospel truth. After all, that is the power of God unto Salvation (Romans 1:16). That doesn’t leave room for much else. On other occasions he told Timothy to avoid worldly fables (1 Timothy 4:7), empty chatter (1 Timothy 6:20), to be accurate (2 Timothy 2:15), and that Scripture was all he needed to be fully equipped (2 Timothy 3:16-17). A preacher doesn’t need another proclamation – and neither do the people.

Word-saturated preaching does what nothing else can do. Such preaching increases people’s faith (Romans 10:17), reveals God’s will (Deuteronomy 29:29), increase biblical literacy (1 Peter 2:1), and gives people lasting peace (Ephesians 2:17-18).

Ever wonder what it is that makes a congregation go from worrying, doubting, and complaining to saying, “Ahhhh, I needed that”? It is the Word of God soothing their soul and setting their minds on Christ.

Give the people what they need. Preach the Word.

2. Be Ready In Season and Out of Season (2 Timothy 4:2b)

Paul continues with an imperative to instantly be ready. Whether it’s popular or not, convenient or not, with or without your bible app – be ready. This is one of the quintessential marks of a true preacher and his mandated proclamation. His message is internalized. He is living it, breathing it, and armed with it. It doesn’t matter what political firestorm is brewing, he is ready with the Word. It doesn’t matter what polemical drama is stirring, he is ready with the Word. It doesn’t matter what he can personally gain by compromising the message, he is ready with the Word.

Our Christian culture today can greatly benefit from taking a page out of Paul’s book. Though we face some varying levels of persecution, he serves as a lofty inspiration. Whether shipwrecked, chained to a guard, beaten, questioned, or threatened with death – he considered every difficult obstacle still as an opportunity.

No matter the climate or the cost, the preacher is always ready.

3. Reprove (2 Timothy 4:2c)

Tolerance is the climate of today’s millennial culture – but our preaching must be counter-culture. Simply put, the preacher is to reprove if he is, in fact, a preacher. This means that he must correct people’s thinking with the truth of God’s Word and trust the Holy Spirit’s work in convicting people of their error. What good is a pastor if he doesn’t tell you right from wrong or truth from tricks? Furthermore, what good is a pastor who does not reprove out of love for the people?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The trouble with some of us is that we love preaching, but we are not always careful to make sure that we love the people to whom we are actually preaching.” Therein lies wisdom for every preacher who reproves the people. God’s love for His people is directly related to His loving correction of His people (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19). What better way for a preacher to show his love for people than to show them the way of truth?

4. Rebuke (2 Timothy 4:2d)

The second of two negative commands settles the matter: preaching the Word includes giving people the hard truth. Rebuke must be clear, and as already stated, it must be done in love. The preacher is a not a rigid surgeon with cold hands and a sharp scalpel – he is a warm, kind, and caring shepherd. To rebuke is not to use the staff to beat the sheep – it is to use the staff to draw the boundary lines of safety. The preacher is never desirous of pugnacious controversy. We must, like Paul in Philippians 3:18, even deal with false teachers through “weeping.”

There is also no room for passive aggressive manipulation in the preacher’s rebuke. To sharply and clearly tell people about the consequences of their error requires that a preacher be forthright and honest. Little is accomplished when preachers attempt to rebuke people with “hints.”

Better is open rebuke, than love that is concealed (Proverbs 27:5). The preacher who rebukes proves he is a lover and protector of God’s people.

5. Exhort (2 Timothy 4:2e)

The preacher must afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. He must walk with his people and be an encouraging voice as they are taken captive by God’s grace. To bring people to a place of great conviction, and to offer a clear correction, but offer no encouragement is to merely place weights on people and walking away. Exhortation is the call to action through the grace and power that the Holy Spirit provides. The preacher proclaims the truth and encourages the people to walk in a manner that is worthy of their calling and to look to Christ as the Author and Finisher of their faith.

Unfortunately, exhortation is often misunderstood as a license to unleash on people but offer little help in the wake of such a lashing. We get exhortation wrong when confining it to the likes of drive-by evangelism, or drive-by discipleship. When a preacher is brash with people from the pulpit, then too busy to walk with people after the sermon, exhortation has scarcely been achieved. It’s an ivory-tower preacher who appears once a week in the pulpit but does not come alongside the people throughout the week. That style of ministry is not what Paul had in mind as he instructed pastors and preachers.

In the end, Paul says that the preacher’s proclamation must include one key element: “great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2f). People are not won to truth by verbal assaults. Such preaching is easy. Anyone can be angry and use the Bible as a hammer, but Paul capstones his call for the preacher’s method by raising the bar. Translated in English as “patient,” the Greek word makrothume (meaning to abide under; or endure) makes it quite clear that in all of the preacher’s proclaiming, he must be patient with people. That is what sets him apart as God’s mouthpiece.

On the topic of effective preaching H.B. Charles Jr. wrote, “Our preaching is not the reason the Word works. The Word is the reason our preaching works.”

Always remember: Churches don’t die. God’s voice in them does when a preacher fails to preach the Word, and the people fail to demand that Word be preached.

Preach the Word.


This article originally appeared on “For the Church” @ www.ftc.co