An Urgent Appeal for Preaching

A man or woman walks out onto a lighted stage. There are themed props and visuals ripe with messaging. It resembles the stage for a poetry reading where everyone snaps their fingers to show their approval, or a one-man stage play. It’s hitting the mark though, we are settled in and comfortable. This is church. I notice there are no stuffy ancient religious symbols, as the speaker begins in casual, conversational tones.

The message is clear, in sync and in rhythm with the props, visuals, and graphics. It’s apparent this has taken considerable time and coordination. This fact works subconsciously to evoke appreciation for the effort. There are no awkward or uncomfortable moments. The message is filled with illustrations, polite humor, steps, and applications that can be tried. There is just the right amount of nudging in the right direction. You never feel like you being “preached at.” In all it was good, well presented, concise, encouraging, it was…O what’s the word? …. Powerless.

For all of it’s efforts and cultural value it was not biblical preaching. Biblical preaching is a courageous act. It takes courage to make a public proclamation of what is true, especially in an age of relativism.

What is increasingly passing for preaching falls woefully short of the proclamation of the powerful word of God. The preaching has no power. The power is in the Word.

The setting, though it helps to sell the message, is not the problem. The problem is the content and manner of the message. And both must be chosen for the right reasons.

2 Timothy 4:2–3 (NAS): preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine;

The Content

As you read the passage, I sense heads nodding at the obvious truth, while mysteriously denying it practically. This is not hard. The content of preaching is the word. The debates about form and function, preaching styles, and relevance have succeeded in clouding the clear. We have hidden an elephant behind our words.

We are called to preach the word. This is not happening if we are using a smattering of cherry-picked passages to preach a topic of our own choosing. This is using the word to preach, not preaching the word.

I saw an article on social media that said, if you are annoyed by others chewing you maybe a genius. And there was actual research behind the claim. Ridiculous right? Preaching the word implies the message comes out of the word. The author’s subject is your subject. His topic is your topic. As clearly as we know annoyance with chewing is not the measure of intelligence, we know what passes for biblical preaching does not have it’s source in the bible. What is preached doesn’t have it’s origin in the mind of the biblical author, but in the mind of the preacher.

The Manner

We are not left to our own creative devices for the manner of preaching either. Given the need to feed the insatiable self, the Lord left us instructions. The young pastor of Ephesus was instructed to be ready to reprove, rebuke, and encourage. We are generally nailing the last one, but the first two are left to languish in silence because they lack popularity. It should not be lost on us that we are good at what people receive easier. Yet there they are, front and center in the instruction. The two terms imply that the word, when preached, will challenge the activity and beliefs of the congregation. It also implies it will be a necessary part of preaching. The people of God need to be challenged. This is not preaching fire and brimstone, this is preaching the text. Some passages have the purpose of exhortation, some reproof, others rebuke. If you’re practicing exposition, the text will decide.

Neither reproof, rebuke nor exhortation should be done recklessly. Preaching must also be done with great patience an instruction. The preacher’s patience must be great because he must know the people are lovers. They love themselves. They love money. They are lover of pleasure rather than lovers of God. But the preacher must be a lover of God and the people, in that order. Therefore, he cannot preach anything other than the content of God’s word, and show great patience with God’s people.

The Reason

The reason for the urgent instruction is simple. The people will quite likely go away. They will stop attending regularly. They will find they like another place better. They will simply not endure it. Every church-goer I know says they love going to church, yet the scripture says they will not endure sound doctrine. Given this contradiction, there is but one conclusion. Our churches are not filling up because we are preaching the word, but because we have become a part of the accumulation.

There will always be an accumulation of ear-tickling teachers to give people a place to go. And I believe every pastor knows it and feels the pressure to scratch where they itch.

So we give a little in order to appeal to the insatiable lovers. We reason that the end will justify the means. It’s better that they are in church than not. And we go on, suppressing the truth.

This is not simply a pulpit problem. Those in the congregation have bought the culture’s wares and suppress the truth of their own nature, professing their right to find a church that they like and where they feel comfortable. Thus unwittingly becoming a part of the problem. We really are lovers of self. We are lovers of money, and lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.

In order to hear sound doctrine, preaching must sometimes be endured. Even Jesus said some things that were hard for some to hear and they left him.

He asked His disciples if they were going to leave him too. They recognized their limited options and they replied, “to whom shall we go?” Unfortunately for us, we have too many places to go.

The Urgency

The plea is urgent because with every preacher who gives in, the tide rises which may one day sweep us away. With every church that adopts the culture’s “model” of ministry, the enticement and the delusion garners more support and power and more will fall. So I too solemnly charge my fellow clergy, be brave and preach the word. Yes, it will cost you something. Many will not endure it, but preaching has always been an act of courage. If enough of us stand in the current together, we can stem the tide. Take courage and Preach the Word.

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