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I want to read a scripture and then open in prayer. We’ll start. The scripture is a famous one relating to preaching: 2 Timothy, chapter four verses one through two. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: preach the word. Be prepared in season and out of season. Correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction.”
Well this is one of many verses that talk about preaching in the scriptures. I love working at preaching, because of all the many different things that we do as pastors this is one of the things that is the most explicitly, repeatedly and emphatically impressed upon us in scripture. There are a lot of good things we do: planning services, the order of worship, developing small groups, figuring out discipleship strategies. All of those things are great and they’re good, and they’re important.
But take for instance the issue of small groups. I think pretty much everybody I know that’s working hard in ministry today wants to encourage small groups, but there’s nothing comparable in the New Testament that explicitly says preach the word, “develop small group”. They’re a means to an end of fellowship and community, discipleship and missional evangelism, all of those things which are wonderful and important, so don’t misunderstand. I’m just saying when you actually read scripture and say, “What are we called to do as pastors and leaders in the church?” this is something that is undeniably, emphatically, explicitly and repeatedly impressed upon us. It’s not just this verse.
In fact, I did something simple last night. I just went on Bible Gateway and did a search for “preach” and “preaching”. I found just shy of 100 passages, 79 in the New Testament alone. Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, just starting out in Matthew chapter four, as we get through the birth accounts it says, “and Jesus began to preach”. Then in Matthew 11, “he went from there to preach”. Then in Matthew 11 Jesus is describing his ministry and he says, “the poor have the gospel preached to them”, or in Matthew 12, “The men of Nineveh did repent at the preaching of Jonah”, and he’s using that to convict the people in his day who were failing to repent at his preaching.
In Mark and Luke, in the first chapter of the gospel of Mark, “preaching” appears four times. He preached and said, “I must go to other towns to preach there also.” He appointed the 12, sent them to preach. They went and preached everywhere. It’s all through Acts, all through the epistles. Paul and Barnabas and Peter are preaching. Then Paul in his epistles is asking people to pray for him so that when he preaches he’ll preach boldly. Then when he writes to Timothy and Titus he tells them to preach.
It’s almost like it’s one of those things where it becomes so commonplace that you don’t see it unless you’re looking for it. As many things that are biblical, it’s also practical. Every study I have some examples in your notes. Thom Rainer did a study, which really fits the theme of this group. They studied churches that went through a plateau or a decline and then recovered and began to grow, church renewal. When they did they found in every case one of if not the predominate factors was the preaching of the senior pastor that brought that renewal about, not just that he was a good preacher but that he was preaching in a way that was shaping the renewal. Then Rainer in his book, “Breakout Churches” is what he called that study, he said that this did not surprise him because they had done another study about church planting and found that the same thing was true, that the majority of people coming, being won to Christ and being a part of a new church plant identified the preaching as the most significant thing that brought them to it.
There was just a recent study that I saw, I don’t know who did it. It was in Christianity Today. It asked why people choose a church, but it was a little bit more specific than that. It was asking people who had a church background, moved to a new community, why they chose a church. I think that’s important because I think this could be different for people that are just far from God and out there in the culture. It said people who had a church background, moved to a new community, the number one thing, which I felt was kind of encouraging, 89% of them said it was the beliefs of the church was why they came to it, but the second, 87% was the preaching of the senior pastor in the worship service. Worship, other aspects, children’s ministry even, which I know is super important for young families, all of those things were less in the overall.
Mark Dever in his book “The 9 Marks of a Healthy Church”, I’ll end with this, he says “of the nine marks of a healthy church the first mark is expositional preaching. It’s not only the first mark, it’s far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this right all the others should follow.” Now, I understand the logic of what he’s saying. I think there’s many a slip in how that actually works out with real people, but I think his idea is if you’re doing solid, powerful, authentic, heartfelt, applicable, expositional preaching then whatever else you’re lacking will be surfaced whether it’s worship or evangelism. I think those of us who have been in ministry for a while realize that you can have all of that and it still doesn’t necessarily mean once you do that sermon on evangelism everybody is going to become an effective evangelist.
I understand the logic of what he’s saying. He goes on to say, “This is the crucial mark. If you want to read only one chapter in this book, you’ve picked the right one. That’s the importance of biblical preaching.” The question for us is how can pastors who are seeking renewal or church planters who are establishing churches best preach life changing sermons that can speak to both believers and non believers so that we can build the church for the glory of God.
I’ve put my main points kind of like a sermon into points. Here’s the first one. Lay a foundation of core convictions for gospel centered preaching. I love this quote by John Stott, I believe it and it shaped my own life in ministry. He says, “In a world that no longer wants to listen, how can we be persuaded to go on preaching and learn to do so effectively? The essential secret is not mastering certain techniques, but being mastered by certain core convictions.”
If you have the conviction, true conviction: I must preach the word in the sense that my preaching must expose what’s in scripture, then even if you don’t know the techniques you’ll find a way to make that happen. If you have the conviction that in your preaching you need to preach in such a way that people understand clearly the implications of what you’re saying for their lives, then better than some technique of illustration that conviction will drive you to find a way to communicate that. If you believe that preaching is a God ordained means of grace that can change people’s hearts, that it’s emphatically given to you in scripture, that this is what you’re to do, that it’s important that you do it in the way that … Well, I don’t have the verse up there that talks about with patience and endurance and in season and out of season. Then even if you don’t feel that you’ve got a tool belt with all the techniques, you will still have that end in mind that will drive you to find your way to those results.
If that’s the case then some of you have already mentioned this, but what would be some of the core convictions that someone preaching for renewal and development of their church, wanting to see preaching as being not just a thing you do but one of the primary ways you shape, guide, lead and change peoples lives, what would be some of the core convictions that you might need? Authentic preaching is kind of a test of faith because you can’t just think that you can accomplish it by the words that you’ve written or the words that you’re saying. There has to be this heart deep dependence on the Holy Spirit to work.
I mean, on our best days the reality is we’re going to have a congregation, I know I’ve said this a lot if you’ve had my classes, you’ve got however many people you’ve got that represents real families, real crisis, real lost people. Sure, God is sovereign but he’s working through human instrumentality. On our best we’re like the boy with the loaves and fishes. What I bring, how is it going to feed these hearts? How is it going to fix that brokenhearted person that’s about to walk out of their marriage or give up on their future, or come to Christ? We can’t do that. The greatest preachers historically who wrote about this, when you think about people like Charles Spurgeon, they always talked about dependence on the Holy Spirit.
You’re like Elijah who builds the altar and pours the water on it. Then you step back and depend. Unless God lights the fire, nothing powerful. That’s one core conviction. For me, in my church the way I apply that is I try to think about it all through the preparation. You’re going to see later on when I give you kind of a trajectory for sermon preparation where it begins. Also, every Saturday night we have Saturday night service, Sunday morning, I’m in the front row worshiping before I preach. Part of what I’m doing is not only worshiping, but in that worship depending on the Holy Spirit. Everybody can have their own different personal disciplines for reminding you to go there, but it’s crucial. That’s one: dependence on the Holy Spirit.
What would be another core conviction, which if you are mastered by it, it will help you be a better preacher? Loving others. Have any of you ever read the book by Jack Miller called Outgrowing the Ingrown Church? There’s a place where he talks about preaching by faith. Back in those days he used to actually sit on the platform in a chair during the worship. I don’t think many of us do that anymore. He would look out at the people and think about God’s love for them.
What else? Faith in the word of God. I believe that there are many voices, and there is a lot of ineffective preaching, but there are some voices that tell us preaching isn’t effective. It’s more important to get one on one with people and all of that. I’m all for all of that, but I believe we should go into the pulpit every opportunity to minister the word of God with great faith. Jesus and Paul and Peter and others, they preached to large groups of people and lives were changed and the Holy Spirit worked and decisions were made.
I just read this story of a famous evangelist. There was a whole chain of the revival that took place in Korea in the 1900s, it went back to this missionary who was influenced by this other missionary who in a sermon was called to the mission field and responded in prayer at the invitation of a sermon. Out of that came this string of people that led to this humongous revival in the 1900s in Korea.
I think there are a lot of different things we could talk about that would be good. I think another one, you said humility or humbleness, I think another one that goes with that and we’re going to talk about a little bit later on is hard work. Sometimes people think, “Well, I if have a gift for speaking I ought to be able to just do it pretty easily”, but Paul talks about laboring. I think to preach well, certainly in today’s culture, the other side of that humility is a willingness to work hard at it.
Well, lay a foundation. I want to focus. If you look in your notes there’s a verse from Colossians, Colossians chapter one, verse 28. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” I want to talk about a core conviction for a little while, which is the core conviction that in our preaching we proclaim him. Whether we’re admonishing or teaching with all wisdom, it’s still him that we’re proclaiming in some sense. The result or the goal is that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.