Monday, October 03, 2016

What Is Good Preaching?

 I have just recently come home from the UPCI General Conference held in Indianapolis, Indiana.  A couple of the Thursday morning seminars provoked my thoughts for this blog.  The first was by Raymond Woodward, “Why I Call Myself a Teacher,” and the second one was by Jerry Jones, “Preaching and Revival.”  Both of the sessions highlighted the matter of preaching and its crucial importance for our churches and our world.  I was again drawn back to the fact that even though there are a wide diversity of demands made on pastor/teachers and evangelists in our day, we can ill afford to let our preaching slip way down the list of our priorities.  There is absolutely nothing that is as important as good preaching in our churches.  But that gives rise to a very good question—what is good preaching?

Before addressing what good preaching is it is important just to briefly list what good preaching is not.  Good preaching is not preaching that violates the context.  It doesn’t matter if you have been preaching for two weeks or two centuries, if a preacher violates the context of a passage, he is committing an act of idolatry!  Some may think that is a stiff statement to say but if you have a high view of Scripture which will give a high view of God, no preacher worth their salt will take a passage of Scripture and force it to say something that it does not say and that is the violation if a talk is given out of context.  Good preaching is not whimsical self-help motivation.  Good preaching is not driven by emotional, tear-jerking stories that elicit a response.  Good preaching is not content that simply promotes peace at any cost in the church and works to never upset the big givers or prominent members.  Good preaching is not witty little talks that soothe people so that there is a steady flow of cash in the coffers.  Conversely, preaching really matters and we have to do it well! 

Brother Woodward made reference to an adage about preaching when he said that commonly we may hear someone say, “That was a great message!” but to the question, “What was it about?” the answer is very troubling.  “I don’t know but it was good!”  That statement in itself can be summed up by a Shakespearean thought in Macbeth when he wrote that life can be a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  Preaching can be called good, great, superlative, and powerful but if it is not biblically grounded it has been a speech told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing.  We as preachers dare not drag our noble calling into that muddy ditch.  With that in mind, ask yourself as a preacher, “What is good preaching?”  There are many good answers to that question but for now, I will only address three of them.    

1.                Good preaching is always biblical.

At the core of all preaching is the absolute responsibility for it to be biblical.  Paul’s command to Timothy was for him to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2).  Preaching that is not biblical will lead to churches that are weak in doctrine and have no desire for holiness.  Soft preaching creates hard hearts and hard preaching creates soft hearts.  Hard preaching is not to be understood as dictatorial and heavy-handed, hard preaching is simply that preaching which deals with the hard sayings that are all through the Scripture.  For instance, in this matter of “hard sayings,” there are eight times that the Lord speaks in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 with the phrase “but I say unto you.”  The Lord was affirming the higher call that holiness has over the Law.  There are those who seemingly love the Law and want all kinds of checklists and moral boundaries given by a preacher so that they can feel “holy” if they do these things.  However, the Lord would have us to understand that the Law has a higher calling.  In the city that I pastor at the end of every peanut harvest season there is a parade that stretches over a 3-mile area of main street.  The crowds over the years have been estimated to be as many as 200,000.  There are speed limit signs along the way that show you can travel 40 miles per hour on this street.  That is what the law would encourage but on this day of the parade the higher calling, the “but I say unto you,” would actually call for a speed limit of 3-4 miles per hour or less.  If you were to travel through that street at 40 mph on the day of the parade it would result in the critical injuries of a large number of people.

Our age has become such that when someone affirms the difference between right and wrong or truth and error, people would do their best to mock and scoff at such a stance.  They would rather turn that message of truth into a matter of opinion and dispute strongly as to it being a personal conviction of a preacher.  While there are areas of personal conviction, there are some who would turn the truth of God’s Word into this kind of thing.  If a true preacher is to emulate the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles, he will find himself at odds with the so-called enlightened who are at best very confused and at worst arrogantly atheistic in their view of God and His Word.  Those who attempt to preach the truth will be looked upon as harsh and intolerant.  But good preaching is always going to be doctrinal, truth-affirming, and ultimately soul-saving.    

2.                Good preaching will not be driven by a secular mindset.

Good preaching will not be driven by a secular mindset that exploits and encourages human potential.  If the apostles were to be able to time-warp and come to one of our modern day Pentecostal services what would they say about the content of the message.  For now, let’s remove the personality of the preacher or the venue of the message and simply boil down the message that is preached.  Has it devolved into a moralistic, self-help, motivational pep talk that could be delivered by any secular motivational speaker?  Has it slipped into the false health, wealth, and prosperity gospel preached by pseudo-Pentecostals and well-coiffed Charismatics?  Is it promising a chicken in every pot or a so-called prophetic blessing on a presidential candidate?  While current events will always be with the church, when preaching allows this to be the sole message, it is not the gospel.
I have a feeling if the apostles were to be able to time-warp back, they would be much alarmed at what the preaching of western civilization has gravitated to.  It is highly unlikely they would understand the educational push to settle a thesis about the message or to derive the antithesis or be able to relate to the whole idea of God simply being in existence to advance the comfortable lifestyle of modern day worshipers.  It is not likely they would believe that we have elevated education to a place to think that will make a man of God.  What they understood was the matter of truth, error, revelation, knowledge, life and death, darkness and light, and time and eternity.  Read their sermonic content in Acts and glean the doctrinal depths and the spiritual power that they commanded and then compare our modern day preaching with it and see how it stacks up.  Even more importantly compare your own sermons with theirs and you most likely will want to mail in a resignation letter.  However, don’t do that, just get better at what you are called to do.  It takes time, discipline, effort, and agony of soul and mind but that is our calling!

If a preacher changes the content of his preaching into a more secular matter, he will replace a Word-based and Spirit-driven worldview.  Secular, humanistic preaching will cause confusion in the minds of those who occupy the pews.  The creation account in Genesis, the role of males/females, the purpose of marriage, bioethics, gender issues, and a host of other issues that are answered by Scripture will be removed from their thoughts.  That will mutate into a modern-day Tower of Babel where mankind will work themselves to the bone in efforts to outwit God.  Sadly, secular speech removes the matter of the cross and makes it void and without effect (1 Cor. 1:17-21).  
      
3.                Good preaching requires the preacher to understand his position.

Good preaching places a great responsibility on the preacher.  James 3:1 should be a verse of Scripture that every preacher memorizes.  My brothers, be not many masters. . . teachers. . . you will have the higher level of responsibility because you will be called into account for everything you have preached.  If we as preachers ever grasp that fact, novelty and creativity in the pulpit will be jettisoned and we will be so concerned with Truth-telling that we forget about trying to be coy and cool.  If a preacher understands his position, then he will work hard to be a Bible preacher and teacher.  Once he understands his position, he will discipline himself to spend time with the Book and on his knees. 

One of the great dilemmas that I personally face is the amount of time that I have set aside to work with the Word to preach.  There are times that the devil would make an effort to tempt me to believe that all of my obsession with God and His Word and with preaching is utter foolishness and the average church member cannot really ascertain between good preaching and poor preaching.  He would whisper to me, “It doesn’t matter.  You are spending too much time with trying to wade through the Word.  Just keep people happy and encouraged and you will do well!”  The antidote for that temptation boils down to a clear understanding of Paul’s words to Timothy about the Scriptures being inspired by God and the profit it has for the church of God.  If Scripture is God-breathed and it is the mind of God, there is fair more wisdom in it than any other source that I could give my mind to.  Just knowing that helps me to understand the greater calling I have to preach the whole counsel of God.  I am not alone in this calling!  Brother Pastor/Evangelist/Teacher put your heart and soul into being a good preacher!  
   
I am certain to revisit this with more thoughts over the next few weeks. . . .

Thanks for reading. . .  


1 comment:

Shaun said...

Great post Bro. Harrelson.