Gospel Meetings: The Preacher
Connie W. Adams
A gospel meeting involves a series of gatherings at which time the gospel is to be preached. Essential to such efforts is the presence and work of gospel preachers. Preaching was done by Jesus, commanded of His apostles and other Christians and freely employed in the work of the early church. Timothy was charged to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:1-4). So vital is the good news of the kingdom, that even the feet of those who bring it are "beautiful" (Rom. 10:15). Paul said "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16). He was "ready to preach it at Rome" (Rom. 1:15) and everywhere else a door of opportunity might open. He taught the gospel "publicly and from house to house" (Acts 20:20).
To "preach is to herald the gospel, to lift up the voice and sound it forth. The terms "preach" and "teach" are often used interchangeably in the New Testament. "Gospel" may be preached to both saint and sinner (Rom. 1:15-16). "Doctrine" may be taught to both saint and sinner (Acts 5:28; Tit. 1:9). Teaching involves the imparting of knowledge. All preaching should do that, though it may take the form of public discourse. Most of the distinctions existing in the minds of brethren between preaching and teaching have to do with manner of presentation.
One does not study long in the book of Acts and later New Testament references before learning that preaching was vital to the work of the apostles and early Christians. Without it, congregations would not have been established and strengthened in the faith. The newly established church in Jerusalem had a series of meetings lasting several days (Acts 2:46). Peter tarried "certain days" in Caesarea among the new converts made at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:48). That is really what we do in today's gospel meetings. We tarry certain days and come together daily to publicly proclaim the word of God. I seriously question the soundness of any brethren who conclude that such a practice is without benefit to the saints and to the saving of the lost.
The Preacher in Such Efforts
The same requirements for a gospel preacher which would qualify him to preach anywhere are those essential to one who might be invited to come and "tarry certain days" among the disciples at a given place. He must be "faithful" to the Lord and "able" to do the work of gospel preaching (2 Tim. 2:2). Some men who are faithful to the Lord in their conduct are not "able" to preach anywhere effectively for lack of either natural or acquired ability. Some men have not studied well. It is axiomatic that one cannot teach another what he does not know himself.
In choosing a man for a gospel meeting, brethren should always look for a godly man, whose manner of life is beyond reproach. Then they should seek a man who, in the judgment of the brethren, has the ability to effectively preach the word in order to accomplish the objectives of such a special effort. And a gospel meeting is a special effort. Some brethren think they have to send half-way across the country to obtain the services of a man who is well known in order to have a productive gospel meeting. There is nothing wrong with inviting a man who lives some distance away and who is known widely for faithfulness to the Lord and ability to effectively preach the gospel. Some modern writers have intimated that there is something suspicious or dishonorable about a gospel preacher having attained a good reputation and being frequently called upon in various places. Yet, I dare say, any one of them would try very hard to answer any such invitation, should it be forthcoming. But, fruitful gospel meetings may be conducted by men perhaps not known so widely, men who might be younger but quite capable, and who might live right in the area where a congregation could well profit from his services. I am persuaded that many congregations are making a serious mistake by not including in their gospel meeting plans some very able young men.
What to Preach
Choosing subject matter for a meeting is not always easy. The shorter the meeting, the harder this task becomes. Everything in the Bible cannot be discussed in five to seven or eight days, even if there are day. services. Sometimes a congregation solves this problem for the preacher by asking him to come prepared to address himself to certain needs in the congregation or subject matter which the brethren feel would be needed in that community at large. But usually, churches leave it to the preacher to use his best judgment. There are certain subjects which are needed everywhere. Faith in God, in Christ and the Bible must ever be established in the hearts of the doubtful and often confirmed in the minds of believer. The authority of Christ and his word must ever be established. The division of the covenants is still not well understood. There are present-day philosophies which undermine faith in the Lord and his work which need to be dealt with. The application of New Testament teaching to every, phase of godly living must be stressed. How this applies to the home, to business, to citizenship in a worldly kingdom and how the Christian may withstand the pressures of the world and still be pure before God-these and like subjects need to be discussed. Materialism ought to be exposed for what it is. Worldliness in the church should be exposed and rebuked. Indifference and indolence in the work of the Lord must be corrected. People must be instructed, convinced and stimulated to obey the gospel and saints to be more dedicated.
Some preachers have developed a reputation of being "preacher's preachers." That is, many gospel preachers will come from far and wide to hear those reputed to be learned and scholarly while the local brethren and community people, after a meeting or two, give him a good "letting alone." They do not understand what he is talking about. There must be a place for meetings designed to conduct in-depth studies in word derivations, and fine distinctions, but preachers who specialize in such efforts during gospel meetings ought not to get sore when the common, ordinary person is concerned about making his life right before the Lord, haunted by guilt and doubts, battered by waves of temptation in work, at home and in society at large, and needing desperately to hear something he can understand and can use in changing his life for the better. Long ago, I stopped giving any thought to whether or not visiting preachers regarded me as wise or scholarly. Personally, I am convinced that when a gospel meeting is over, I should have taught the sinner what to do to be saved, shown the difference between truth and error, opened the hearts of hearers to the beauty and simplicity of God's truth, and encouraged the child of God to do better. If that has been done, then God has been pleased and I have been a success where it really counts. If enough seed is planted and watered, God will give the increase, whether while the meeting is in progress or after it is over.
Gospel preachers ought to spare the brethren, and any whom they persuade to attend, their opinions and nit-picking ideas. Get into the scriptures and stay there! Tell people what the Lord said and keep your "think so's" to yourself! There are some meetings which call for addressing oneself to specific problems known to exist among the brethren by whom you are called. When that must be done, it must be done fairly, impartially and with full knowledge of the facts. It is a serious mistake, with which the church will have to live after you have packed your suitcase and gone home, to allow yourself to become the axe-grinder for one side or another in a local feud.
Over the years, this writer has developed the practice of preaching expository sermons which summarize books of the Bible or certain chapters in context with pertinent applications made in today's world. People need to know what the Lord said in context. Topical preaching has its place. Some of it is necessary. But exposing the minds of a sincere audience to a portion of scripture in its proper setting, with attention given to immediate and extended applications, is of great benefit to any audience at any place, anytime. Preachers often complain that too many are ignorant of the scriptures. Whose fault do you suppose that is? Certainly everyone should study the Bible for himself at home. But preachers must also share the blame.
How to Preach It
(1) The truth should be preached courageously. It is much worse to displease the Lord than an earthly audience. Paul asked brethren to pray that he might open his mouth "boldly" in preaching (Eph. 6:19). Mealy-mouthed uncertainties will not change anybody.
(2) The word should be proclaimed simply. If the audience cannot understand because of our choice of words or poor organization, making it virtually impossible to follow, then we have wasted our time and theirs. "But today's audiences are so much more enlightened and better educated," we are told. That is doubtful. When young people go to college who cannot spell simple, ordinary words, or construct a simple, declarative sentence, today's audiences are not as far advanced as some might think. There are college graduates who either cannot spell or do not know how to use the dictionary, or both. I know. Some of them send me manuscripts for publication! Much of the generation under thirty years of age has been brought up listening to rock music by the hour and shuttled through school on ever-lowering educational standards. If we will reach them with the truth, we will have to keep it simple.
(3) Gospel preaching should be done with great concern for the lost. This will generate in our preaching a sense of urgency. If our concern is real, our urgency will be natural and apparent to those who hear. Frankly, much of the conversational-tone preaching makes me sleepy. It lacks urgency. One does not have to shout to be fervent, nor to practice all manner of facial contortions and frantic gestures to be intense. But one thing is certain and that is that we shall stir nobody to change unless we are evidently stirred with the truth of what we are saying. Perhaps at no point in a sermon in a gospel meeting does this concern, or lack of it, become so apparent as during the offering of the Lord's invitation. Of course, the sinner must be, informed as to what he ought to do. Saints have heard t over and over, but that does not lessen the need of the sinner. Many a sinner may have been disturbed at the time he needs to give the more earnest heed by the inconsiderate fumbling and rattling of song books if the preacher happens to mention faith, repentance or baptism after speaking about thirty minutes. Try this, brethren. When you are ready to offer the invitation, announce the song to be used and ask the audience to turn to it and hold it ready. Wait, and then ask them to give back their undivided attention. Then earnestly present the Lord's plan, and then take a few moments to plead with those who are lost to realize the importance of what is about to be done, of what it can mean to their lives and eternal destinies. Many of us do not know how to exhort. We can argue, reason, lay out the facts, expose error, present a well organized lesson which is faithful and true to the Book, but we do not know how to exhort men to flee from the wrath to come. We do not make them shudder at the thought of being lost in hell, nor quicken their appetite for the beauties and glories of eternal rest with God in heaven. We do not help them to make the contrast between the hopelessness of serving the Devil and the rewards of godliness which hold promise in this world and that which is to come.
Some preachers seldom persuade people to obey the truth while others are much more successful. Some of those who make such complaints are extremely capable men. It may be that they are always present during a meeting when only sowing is done. The watering and reaping may come later, and that is all right. The number converted in gospel meetings is not the only measure of success. But it is a fact that in gospel meetings today, many are attending who ought to obey the truth, who have had some private teaching and who are looking for the way that is right and cannot be wrong. We ought to preach as if we expect people to obey the truth. Some of us preach about as pessimistically as the little girl who came to my door once and with head hung down blurted out "Mister, you don't want to buy no Girl Scout cookies do you?" Some people who are persuaded of the truth and would obey it in a gospel meeting, do not come forward because they do not fully understand what procedure will be followed if they do come forward. Well, what would be wrong with taking a few moments to simply state what will be done?
Then seek the cooperation of the song leader. Ask him to choose old songs which have a fervent appeal to the heart, and ask him to start singing the very instant you ask the audience to stand and sing. If you are convinced there are some in the audience who are "in the valley of decision" stop after a verse or two and exhort a little more. I know some of the brethren will say that sounds like a holiness meeting. This can be overdone until an excitement is generated which overpowers the reason and disgraces the gospel. But if there is anything out of place with letting an audience know you are solicitous for the souls of men who are almost persuaded, then I have failed to find it. I have never done much of this in gospel meeting preaching or in local work, but there are times when I think it is needed and if the brethren do not want me to do it, then they ought to invite someone else to do the preaching. Other preachers can go about it the best way they can. That is what this preacher intends to do.
I hear some lamenting now that "Nobody obeys the gospel in meetings anymore." Well, that is not so. If a man works in meeting after meeting, year in and year out and never persuades anyone to obey the Lord, then something is wrong and ought to be corrected.
Something also needs to be said about the use of a preacher's time through the day during meetings. He can be kept on the social circle, stuffed until he can not get his breath and the meeting will actually be hindered. He can not think as well and he can not preach as well. Personally, I am always disappointed when the brethren have not planned for day services, if no more than ten or fifteen people can attend. Further it helps a meeting for a preacher to be willing to spend some time studying privately with those who are good prospects. That might interfere with his golf or fishing plans, but it also might help lead some to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Brethren, an invitation to conduct a gospel meeting is not a status symbol. It is a door of opportunity opened before you to plant and water gospel seed. Let us all watch and be faithful.
Truth Magazine XXI: 27, pp. 426-428