By Wayne S. Walker
John the Baptist was a preacher (read Matt. 3:1-3). In fact, John was probably one of the most popular and most effective preachers of all time. But in many religious circles today, preaching is on the decline. Mass media is challenging churches for the attention of people. Many would rather stay at home and watch a sermon on TV than go to church. Others would rather stay at home and watch anything on TV. And even of those who do attend church services, some are quite disinterested in preaching and find Eutychus a kindred spirit. They either snooze through the sermon or shift their minds into neutral and turn their thoughts elsewhere.
Why is much of the preaching that is done so ineffective? Some blame it on the lecture method used in preaching. Since th’ congregation never gets to participate directly and immediately in the sermon, they would just as soon do away with preaching and set up discussion groups instead. Others blame the dogmatic style of preachers who, they say, sound too “preachy.” They do not want to be “preached” to because they feel they have a right to their own opinion. No one is going to tell them what is right, what is wrong, and what they ought to do, or they blame the subjects and material chosen by preachers – dull, too old-fashioned, not relevant enough. And occasionally, a few of these objections may be valid.
But John Killinger, in The Centrality of Preaching, suggests why much of what is called preaching is not really effective. “People are not tried of preaching but of non-preaching, of badly garbled, irrelevant drivel that has in so many places passed for preaching because there was no real preaching to measure it against.” Many churches have imported the idioms of the world into their music, worship, finances, fellowship – and into their preaching as well. Their ministers quote more poets and novelists than scriptures. They prefer to give book reports rather than Bible lessons. They play down the great spiritual truths about man, his sins, and what he must do. And they don’t talk about the differences between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God any more.
However, people are asking important religious questions. Is the Bible true? How does it affect me? Does it really mean what it says? And these questions can be answered only by gospel preaching. God still uses preaching to reach men and bring them to Himself. David Lloyd-George, former British prime minister, said, “When the chariot of humanity gets stuck. . . nothing will lift it out except great preaching. There is nothing in this case that will save the world but. . . preaching.” The apostle Paul said the same thing earlier and in a much better way in 1 Cor. 1:21.
There are six different words in the New Testament that describe preaching, two of which are more common than the others. One, used of John in our text, means “to herald, announce, proclaim” (denoting what the preacher does). The other, used in 1 Cor. 15:1 means to tell good news, to speak glad tidings (defining what the preacher says). Because of the importance which the Bible places on preaching, it needs to be revitalized. We must put it on a firm Biblical basis. Preaching should be looked upon not merely as a method of filling an hour on Sunday mornings, but as a means of instructing people in the way of the Lord. Good preaching can only be based on sound scriptural doctrine. Therefore, we have to know the true goals, aims, and ideals of preaching in order to share God’s word effectively with those who need it.
This is a subject everyone should study. Preachers, of course, need to know it so they can faithfully discharge the responsibilities God has given them. Elders ought to be aware of it so they can work with the preacher to see that the flock is fed properly. And every Christian must recognize it so the members can demand sound preaching where they attend. With this in mind, let’s examine some characteristics of effective preaching.
I. Purposeful. We must preach the mighty works of God, not opinions or platitudes. Preaching is a sacred trust, a blessed opportunity, a divine call. The goal is not to catch the spirit of the age, but to correct it with God’s truth. Preaching should be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Therefore, we must so present Jesus Christ that people will come to know Him, love Him, serve Him, and yield their lives to Him completely.
II. Practical. Preaching must have an application for the hearer. Without that, it is like a doctor who gives a sick man a lecture on health, but sends him out of the office without a prescription to cure his illness. But preaching must also apply to the preacher. The effectiveness of preaching declines when a gulf develops between the one who preaches and the people. Holiness must characterize our lives so that those who see us may have a good example. “Practice what you preach!”
III. Personal. The effectiveness of preaching proves itself by what happens to each person who hears it. Some aspect should reach every listener. No one should walk away from church without some spiritual insight. Preaching provides the meeting place for the soul and God – it nurtures souls. Thus, preaching must speak to the listener’s situation. And to do this, the effective preacher or teacher should analyze and know his audience.
IV. Powerful. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). Preaching should be measured in terms of eternity, rather than time. Like the prophets of old, we may sigh anxiously. However, we must continue to speak the word with power. We should not despair but know that in God’s good time the effort will be worth it. The stamp of success may never appear in time, but it will in eternity. Success does not come automatically, but it will eventually when we communicate the good news powerfully to bring life to a dying humanity.
Preaching is God’s method for saving the world. We have no alternative. Preaching must be revitalized if we are to do God’s task. It must be preaching with purpose – to reconcile a world to Jesus Christ – and with practicality. It must be preaching to people – where they are, in their need. Above all, it must be preaching by the power of the word of God. And I am not just talking about public preaching; every Christian is a preacher in one sense of the word, because each of us it to proclaim the good news to those we are in contact with.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 2, pp. 50-51
January 20, 1983