10 Pointers for Evangelistic Preaching

10 targetepThere are far more qualified voices on this subject, but nevertheless, here are 10 pointers to ponder as you anticipate preaching evangelistically.

1. God can work despite your weaknesses as a communicator, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your best – this is true in an individual message, and in a lifetime of ministry.  So look for ways to improve and grow in what you do as a preacher of the gospel.

2. The Gospel is good news, so proclaim it – somehow it is easier to talk about it, than to actually proclaim it.  We have great news to share, so let’s take the opportunity to get it presented.

3. The Gospel is a proclamation of what God has done in Christ, not what people should do in response to your message – “Repent and believe” is not good news, it is a way of phrasing an appropriate response to the news.  The good news declares what God has done in sending his Son to earth, to us, to the cross, and what that means for people today.

4. You are representing a person, not just a set of truths – Somehow people can become quite aggressive when they declare sets of truth, but they don’t when they speak of someone they love.  Please ponder the love of God for you before you proclaim the message of his love for others.

5. You communicate by more than your words – There is also your attitude, your expression, your demeanour, your tone, your body language and your personal warmth.  Please align all of these with your message.

6. Make people want it to be true before you try to convince them that it is true – There is absolutely a place for declaring the truth and seeking to be convincing about it, but remember that simply proving your point will never usher souls into the kingdom.  We flatter ourselves if we think the world is waiting for us to be clever and convincing enough before they will respond.

7. Don’t let the truth of the truth be foggy – We live in a relativistic age that assumes you don’t even really believe what you are declaring, so be sure to undermine the fairy tale/personal crutch idea and invite them to engage with truth, history, etc.

8. Be biblical in what you say, whether or not you cite your source – Some like to point to Acts 17 and suggest Paul never quoted the Bible in his message to the philosophers in Acts.  This is simplistic and misleading.  Paul’s message was saturated in biblical truth, he just didn’t give the references all the way through.  Please be biblical.  God is a great communicator.  (There is definitely a place for preaching a passage – evangelistic exposition can be incredibly powerful, but when you aren’t “preaching a passage” please be thoroughly biblical anyway.)

9. Pray for wisdom to blend patience with boldness – It is easy to assume this is the only opportunity and present awkwardly.  It is easy to assume this isn’t the key opportunity and present weakly.  Somehow we need wisdom to find the right blend.  Cumulative evangelistic ministry is very powerful, but for some people this may be a unique moment.  We need both boldness and patience.

10. Always remember that it is the Holy Spirit who changes lives – Not your technique, nor your message, nor your learning, nor your cool persona, nor your stunning powerpoint, nor your well-worked structure.  It is a work of God to save a hell-bound sinner and draw them into his family.  Pray passionately.  Proclaim persuasively.  Depend completely.

I can already think of more to add.  What would you add?

(Previously in this series we have had 10 pointers for younger preachers, older preacherstrained preachersuntrained preacherspreaching Easterteam preaching and special occasion preaching.)

Okay, One More Spurgeon Quote

Honestly, I’m at Keswick this week, moving on Monday, and a little overwhelmed, so I am resorting to an easy source for quality thought-provoking material.  Spurgeon.  Following on from yesterday and thinking about preaching to save souls, here’s a blast worth receiving:

If we ourselves doubt the power of the gospel, how can we preach it with authority?  Feel that you are a favored man in being allowed to proclaim the good news, and rejoice that your mission is fraught with eternal benefit to those before you.  Let the people see how glad and confident the gospel has made you, and it will go far to make them long to partake in its blessed influences.

Preach very solemnly, for it is a weighty business, but let your matter be lively and pleasing, for this will prevent solemnity from souring into dreariness.  Be so thoroughly solemn that all your faculties are aroused and consecrated, and then a dash of humor will only add intenser gravity to the discourse, even as a flash of lightning makes midnight darkness all the more impressive.  Preach to one point, concentrating all your energies upon the object aimed at.  There must be no riding of hobbies, no introduction of elegancies of speech, no suspicion of personal display, or you will fail.  Sinners are quick-witted people, and soon detect even the smallest effort to glorify self.  Forego everything for the sake of those you long to save.  Be a fool for Christ’s sake if this will win them, or be a scholar, if that will be more likely to impress them.  Spare neither labor in the study, prayer in the closet, nor zeal in the pulpit.  If men do not judge their souls to be worth a thought, compel them to see that their minister is of a very different opinion.

Some things have changed ever so slightly, but the bulk of this quote is well worth pondering in respect to our preaching today.  Perhaps it would be worth spending a season in prayer, asking God to make the souls of those around as important to us as they are to Him.  That might prompt prayer, and preaching, as never before.

(Quote from Thielicke’s Encounter with Spurgeon, pp58-9.)

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Gospels That Aren’t Worth It

Another brief thought sparked by a good conversation.  The friend I was chatting with made an observation.  He said that in a lot of churches it seems like the gospel, the good news, is that we are good news.  Interesting thought.  Imagine if the gospel was just that we are the gospel.  But honestly, if that’s it, then it doesn’t seem worth it.

(There are other gospels on the loose today, also not worth it.  If the gospel is just that we can be rich in this world – not worth it.  If the gospel is just that we can protect the environment – not worth it.)

We won’t get into precise definition of the gospel here, although there is huge need for that.  But the basic conclusion was this – the gospel surely is something about what God has done in Christ.  If we let the gospel shrink to an us-size gospel, rather than a Christ-size gospel, we do everyone a profound disservice.  Now a Christ-size gospel, a work of God gospel, that reaches us and does what only God could do for people who deserve anything but . . . that’s a gospel worth preaching!

Is That All?

I was just reading a book that made a simple, but memorable point.  The author asked a carpenter working on his house what difference Jesus made to his life and work.  The answer was telling, “I suppose he makes me an honest carpenter.”  Is that all?

How often do we essentially preach a salvation ticket to heaven with morality for the present? How often do we fall painfully short of offering to people in our meetings what Jesus called “life to the full” or “eternal life” … now?  I believe many are failing to preach much of a hope for the future, with the watered down vesions of, or totally ignored subject of, the future.  Yet it is hard to say that the future is neglected for the sake of the present.  For many, the present life offered by Christianity is merely moral.

Have we become dulled and insensitive to the richness of life in fellowship with the God of the universe?  Have we over-simplified gospel preaching to a simple solution for guilt, but stripped it of the richness of reconciliation, regeneration, adoption, fellowship, not to mention the horizontal overflow of these vertical realities?

I’ll keep this post short and not chase down the theological possibilities.  But perhaps we would do well to evaluate the net presentation of the Christian life in our preaching – is it merely that now we can be honest carpenters?

Reformation Lessons for Preachers – Part 2

Yesterday I quoted at length from Mike Reeves’ message on Justification (available on theologynetwork.org).  Mike was addressing the intriguing question, “Why is it that Luther started the Reformation and Erasmus didn’t?” The first part of his answer focused on the contrast between their views of Scripture.  For Erasmus the Scripture was to be revered, but could be squeezed to fit his own vision of Christianity.  For Luther the Scriptures were the only sure foundation for belief, the supreme authority allowed to contradict all other claims.  Now for the second part of Mike’s answer to the question:

But it wasn’t just the authority of the Bible that made the difference, it was also what they saw as the content of the Bible.  For Erasmus the Bible was little more than a collection of moral exhortations.  The Bible is all about urging believers to be more like Christ the example.  Luther said, that’s just turning the Gospel on its head.  Our issue is sinners first and foremost don’t need to copy someone, sinners need a Saviour!  Sinners need, first and foremost, a message of salvation!  . . . Without the message of Christ’s free gift of righteousness, his free gift of himself and all that he has, there would be no Reformation.  Justification by faith alone was what made the Reformation the Reformation.  . . . It was this gracious message of a sweet Saviour’s free gift of righteousness that made life changing ministries life changing.

Reformation is not a moral spring clean.  It’s not a revolution against the old ways, anything old fashioned and ritualistic.  It’s not just about opening the Bible, but not finding the message fully.  This is a profound challenge for the church today – what message do people hear?

Our attitude to Scripture is the foundational issue for our preaching.  The message we preach from the Scripture is the more visible issue in our preaching.  Do we stand, no matter how much contemporary culture, even church culture, not to mention the attacks of the enemy himself, are arrayed against us?  Do we stand and preach the message of Scripture, because we are absolutely committed to Scripture, because we are absolutely committed to the God who gave us the Scripture?  Do we preach in light of these simple yet profound lessons from history?

Tragedy

I’d like to quote from James Stewart’s classic, Heralds of God (p20).  After this quote, I will only have the briefest of comments to share:

If you as preachers would speak a bracing, reinforcing word to the need of the age, there must be no place for the disillusioned mood in your own life.  Like your Master, you will have meat to eat that the world knows not of; and that spiritual sustenance, in so far as you partake of it daily, will strengthen your powers of resistance to the dangerous infection.  Surely there are few figures so pitiable as the disillusioned minister of the Gospel.  High hopes once cheered him on his way: but now the indifference and the recalcitrance of the world, the lack of striking visible results, the discovery of the appalling pettiness and spite and touchiness and complacency which can lodge in narrow hearts, the feeling of personal futility – all these have seared his soul.  No longer does the zeal of God’s House devour him.  No longer does he mount the pulpit steps in thrilled expectancy that Jesus Christ will come amongst His folk that day, travelling in the greatness of His strength, mighty to save.  Dully and drearily he speaks now about what once seemed to him the most dramatic tidings in the world.  the edge and verve and passion of the message of divine forgiveness, the exultant, lyrical assurance of the presence of the risen Lord, the amazement of supernatural grace, the urge to cry “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel” – all have gone.  The man has lost heart.  He is disillusioned.  And that, for an ambassador of Christ, is tragedy.

Amen.

Demand

I’ve really been encouraged by reading James Stewart’s classic book, Heralds of God, again.  Here’s a quote that might be relevant before tomorrow’s message:

If you are wise, you will not in your preaching mask or minimize the overwhelming, absolute nature of Christ’s demand.  Men are ready for a Leader who will unhesitatingly claim the last ounce of His followers’ courage and fidelity.  Field-Marshal Wavell has told, in his notable lectures entitled Generals and Generalship, the story of how Napoleon, when an artillery officer at the siege of Toulon, built a battery in such an exposed position that he was told he would never find men to man it.  But Napoleon had a sure instinct for what was required.  He put up a placard – “The battery of men without fear”: and it was always manned.  This is no time to be offering a reduced, milk-and-water religion.  Far too often the world has been presented with a mild and undemanding half-Christianity.  The Gospel has been emasculated long enough.  Preach Christ today in the total challenge of His high, imperious claim.  Some will be scared, and some offended: but some, and they the most worth winning, will kneel in homage at His feet.

In the 63 years since this was published it is not just the length of sentence and complexity of punctuation that has changed.  I suppose it is almost impossible to write something like that today without being vilified from various sides.  Still, does he not have a point here?  From one side we hear that Christian preaching is too full of male dominated illustrations.  From the other side we hear that church is lacking in anything to attract men.  But actually, the calling on a life implicit in the gospel and biblical teaching is not a male versus female issue.  It is a captivated passionate pursuit of God versus a comfortably self-obsessed issue.  Whatever the terminology, let’s not preach a milk-and-water religion.

Evangelistic Preaching – A Flexibility Test?

I don’t think there is a definitive model for evangelistic preaching.  There are guidelines, certainly, but also a real need for flexibility.  You have to flex according to the kind of church you are in, the occasion on which you preach, the kind of people to whom you are preaching and so on.

I grew up in a church context where there was, in theory, an evangelistic sermon every Sunday night.  In many ways it was a remnant from an earlier generation in which people would attend church simply because a service was taking place.  By the time I came along (due to being in a Christian family), our culture had changed.  Week after week the meeting would take place, always to the same crowd of believers, usually without clear explanation of how to respond to the gospel, often without clear explanation of the meaning of the cross.  The format of the service was traditional and probably distinctly alien and uncomfortable for any outsider that might attend.  It certainly did not motivate me to invite non-believers.

I think many churches are more purposeful about evangelistic meetings now (at least in my circles).  More creativity, more “natural” communication, more effort to remove the “cringe” factors.  But one thing is clear – there is not one way to preach evangelistically.  Taking into account the people present, how the meeting has been promoted, the expectations of those who have invited friends, etc. all influences how to preach.  Sometimes a gentle introduction to Christianity that leaves people wanting more is ideal.  Other times it is critical to give a more complete gospel presentation.  Sometimes it is time to “shake the tree” and catch the already ripened fruit by overt calls to decision.

It takes sensitivity, wisdom, faith and courage to know which way to go on a particular occasion.  Generally it is best to present the way you informed the church that you would (because they bring guests according to what they are expecting you to do!)  Ultimately, there will probably be criticism coming from somewhere, but that is evangelistic preaching – never easy, always critical.  There is no simple formula, for there are so many variables.  But at its core the gospel doesn’t change, and the world needs it as much as ever.

Solid Solitary Converts

We’ve probably all heard about evangelistic preaching that has somehow manipulated the crowd.  I remember sitting in the back row of a meeting with a very famous preacher.  When it came to the evangelistic part of the evening, he presented the gospel.  Then when it was time for the altar call, somehow the gospel message morphed into “if you have done this before but still struggle with sin, come forward…”  Naturally the numbers swelled significantly!  It may look great on reports, but it is manipulative and dishonest if these people are counted as converts.

I’m not in any way suggesting altar calls are inappropriate.  In some situations they are highly appropriate.  But manipulation and dishonesty in preaching is always inappropriate.  The end does not justify the means.  Let’s be sure to preach the gospel and pray for thousands to respond, but rather than get clever with the call, let’s praise God for solid solitary converts!