January 16, 2018

The Need to Preach on Preaching (1)

Mark Minnick

This is Part One ♦ Part Two  Part Three

All preachers preach, and for that reason sermons are constantly on their minds. But in the main, this is probably true only of those sermons they’re delivering from week to week. It’s another matter entirely to think not about the product of preaching (sermons), but about the thing itself. That is, about preaching as an activity, a phenomenon, or, if you will, a recurring event in the life of the Church.

For many years I’ve been constrained by force of circumstances to think about preaching in this more philosophical way. Not only because I preach, but because it’s been my lot to teach preaching on the university and seminary levels. As a result, I’ve enjoyed the happy obligation of reading scores of books about preaching. The other day I counted 65 in my own library, not to speak of the many I’ve borrowed from others. Not all are good, but all have forced me to think about preaching philosophically. So have the several hundred biographies of preachers that stand on the shelves across the room from me even as I write.

It may, therefore, have been this calling to teach preaching that first motivated me to preach to my people about it. But somewhere along the line I came to realize that my church actually needed to hear preaching on the subject of preaching. That realization has become a conviction that the Lord’s people have a genuine, spiritual need to hear this topic unfolded just as scripturally, exegetically, and applicationally as any other Bible theme. So through the years I’ve done so frequently, perhaps even once or twice a year.

Preaching about preaching may seem a novel idea, perhaps even a self-serving one. It strikes people as something especially suited to the preacher’s needs, not his people’s. But there are compelling reasons for confronting them also with this subject.

Our People Need Understanding That Preaching Is Vital to Their Spiritual Life.

Something that is “vital” is an irreplaceable necessity to the very life of the object. It’s a thing without which the object would die. Sound like an overstatement to make about the contribution of preaching to the life of the Church? It’s not. P. T. Forsyth’s oft repeated statement is true: “With its preaching Christianity stands or falls.”

What I’m arguing is so much the case that the history of the true Church of Jesus Christ is little more than the history of its preachers and their preaching. In the introduction to his classic work, A History of Preaching, Edwin Charles Dargan could justifiably claim, “The spread of Christianity, both geographically and numerically, has been largely the work of preaching.” His two massive volumes of historical survey verify his observation. Read them. Dargan will persuade you.

Even more convincing is the fact that the Bible’s entire history of mankind is recorded primarily in terms of the lives and messages of preachers. You can think your way right through the only history of the ancient world to which the Bible pays any attention by just proceeding one spokesman after another—Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, the Prophets, John the Baptist, the Son of God, and the apostles. In fact, apart from the Patriarchs, a few of the Judges, and the most significant of the kings, men are given very little place in Biblical history unless they are public spokesmen for God. This is particularly true of the New Testament era.

I want to clarify emphatically, however, that what I’m defending doesn’t for a moment diminish the significance of the non-preaching believers who make up the vast majority of the Body. Far from it. The New Testament makes much of them. But even this is done through preaching. Frankly, we wouldn’t even know that the Holy Spirit has designed and gifted every member of Christ’s Body to play a significant role in the edifying of the whole unless a God-called spokesman had said it in passages such as Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. Yet even with those scriptures available for reading many believers still miss their point. What does it take to set them straight? Preaching on those passages. The very life of their service depends upon it.

But unfortunately, any two or more of us, just like water, tend by our carnal nature to reach a common level by running off downhill of Scripture. As a result many believers gradually lose whatever spiritual comprehension they’ve ever had of just how vital preaching is. I don’t mean that they’d opt for eliminating it altogether. In fact, most of them would quickly argue that they can’t do without it. But the shallow depth to which many of them understand this is exposed by the kind of preaching they choose to listen to. Much of it is very short, and what there is of it contains very few of the actual words of God. There’s a little bit of Bible in a little bit of time, and Christian people are content with it. They have almost no concept of the fact that by nature, spiritual life must—not should, but must—feed on large servings of the very words of God which alone are spirit and life (John 6:63). Tragically, many Christians can hardly identify with the absolute necessity of this because they have never learned what it is to give the words of God a rich dwelling in their spirit (Col. 3:15). They have, in effect, scarcely begun to really live on the words of God. As a result they don’t, in fact they can’t think God’s thoughts after Him. They’re constitutionally incapable of it. Correspondingly, their appreciation for the vital necessity of the right kind of preaching is stunted.

Or, to give another illustration of the point, consider how Christian people so readily opt for more of what diminishes preaching’s centrality. More music, more liturgy, more fellowship, more testimonies, more lighthearted, folksy chit chat from the platform, more of almost anything that is less taxing on the mind and less demanding of the spirit than biblical preaching. Though perhaps unwittingly, they are nevertheless effectively eroding the influence of the pulpit. They simply don’t understand that their choices not only leave less and less time for the meat of the Word but, even more insidiously, develop in a church a large appetite for nearly everything but solid food.

One of the most effective ways of correcting this and keeping it corrected is to preach with some regularity on the necessity of preaching. The Bible itself provides numerous texts for careful expositors to use in persuading our people that nothing is more vital to their spiritual health than the right kind of preaching. Find those texts. Feed on them yourself. They’ll do you good. They’ll magnify your calling for you. When they have, take them with you into the pulpit and preach them fervently. The vigor, stamina, sensitivity and quality of spiritual life in your church may depend upon it.

The second point of three in this article will follow next week.

Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary. 

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2002. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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