Impositional Preaching

Some of the greatest preachers of recent history have built sermons on single verses.  I tend not to do that.  Am I saying I know better than them?

Dr Lloyd-Jones, not to mention Spurgeon, and others, have demonstrated extended sermon series that essentially preach a single text at a time.  Surely if we were to be preachers after their kind today, then we should pursue the same kind of ministry?  Actually, I think not.

First, let’s recognize what these men did. Spurgeon sometimes resorted to an allegorical exegesis of the text, but not always.  Lloyd-Jones tended to preach the Bible’s theology radiating from the impact point of a single verse.  That is, since the word “justified” is in this verse, what all could be said from the whole canon on that theme (perhaps in this message, perhaps over several).

Second, let’s recognize what wannabe’s often do. Today when I hear people building messages from single texts I tend not to hear people with the pedigree of Spurgeon or Lloyd-Jones.  I do hear some allegorical, not to mention fanciful, interpretations.  These lack credibility and authority.  I also hear some waffling messages padded with poor cross-referencing that shows neither theological acumen, nor precision in respect to recognition of biblical connections (nor genuine understanding of the theological needs of the listener).  In an era where listeners will look at the text and dismiss apparently unfounded sermonizing, we would do well to reevaluate the efficacy of many “single verse” approaches to preaching.

Third, let’s realize that imposition is not exposition. Too often the preacher has the mindset of seeking to utilize the text as a series of pegs on which to hang their thoughts.  All too often those pegs are not divinely intended to hold the weight placed on them.  The Bible is an intricate and powerful construct of divine design.  Sadly, all too often preachers take a twig from the oak tree and assume it will bear the same weight as the oak was designed to hold.  Impositional preaching is not exposition, it is a pale imitation of what some greats from church history did.

Fourth, let’s realise that exposition is about honouring God, not historical figures. I deeply respect Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones, as well as many other preachers through church history that I do not seek to emulate every week.  My view of expository preaching is built on my understanding of the nature of God’s Word.  As I seek to explain it, to demonstrate its relevance, to say what it says and seek to somehow make the message do what it does, I am pursuing a contemporary ministry of expository preaching.  I may fall short of historical models, and yet at the same time I may at times get closer to honouring the intent of the text.  I pray that God will enable me to have a fraction of the impact of these great men.  I pray that God will equip me to be a preacher of His Word, rather than one who seeks to reproduce a historically bound model of ministry.

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Pastoral Periphery?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones held preaching to be the highest calling.  Many pastors and church leaders consider it the central calling in their ever increasing list of tasks.  In reality preaching is only ever one part of a bigger package.  There may also be counsellor, crisis-management, events organizer, team coordinator, small group leader, tension diffuser, visionary leader, committee chair, leadership liaison, building project coordinator, public relations officer, and on it goes.

I’m not affirming or even condoning how much some church leaders have on their plate, but I do recognize it.  Monday morning may be a good time to reflect on the non-preaching aspects of the ministry coming up in the days and weeks ahead.  For those with a passion to preach there may be a tendency to neglect other aspects of our ministry and move from yesterday’s message(s) to next Sunday’s.  Perhaps our preaching could be strengthened by prayerful consideration of the other aspects of church life (not just the task lists, but especially the people involved).  Take some time to pray for others in the church and pray through what you know to be their concerns and priorities as they look at the ministry of the church.

As well as taking a break from preaching preparation, this will give greater sensitivity to the priorities God has given to others.  The benefits of the rest and the awareness, will also help your preaching too, so in a sense you’re still pursuing your “high calling!”

Spontaneous Preacher Combustion

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote that “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.”  In fact, allow me to quote further (from 97-98 of Preaching and Preachers):

What is the chief end of preaching?  I like to think it is this.  It is to give men and women a sense of God and his presence. . . . I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul . . . if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the gospel.

That’s a great thought to ponder as we prepare for the next message.  In reality, it may take longer than from now til Sunday.  Let’s face it, the title for this post is patently ridiculous.  The kind of divinity and spirituality implied by Lloyd-Jones’ reference to a man on fire is not the kind that comes by “spontaneous” combustion.  It comes through the long slow warming of the soul in the warmth of God’s embrace, through slow-cooked spirituality as the preacher is consistently exposed to the burning truths of God’s Word, through the patient grace of One who does not put out a dying ember, but gently fans it into flame over time.  Don’t expect miraculous fire if you are not spending extended time in the presence of God.  Only if we are much at home with God are we likely to give listeners a real sense of God.  Spontaneous?  No.  Fire?  Let’s hope so.

Unusually Careful

Just a brief thought since it is the season for non-regular attenders at church.  When preparing evangelistic sermons it is worth being unusually careful.  Apparently, Martyn Lloyd-Jones would always write out his evangelistic sermons, rather than his edification sermons.  Remember that the real “risk” when preaching the gospel is not the preacher’s, but the church folk who’ve invited their friends.  It is so easy to inadvertently offend in the wrong sense of the term.  So with all the extra visitors in our churches this Sunday, let’s be unusually careful in preparing the messages.