This is a sequel to my last two posts, which were in part sharing as a pastor with other pastors, especially as an older and retired pastor speaking from the heart to any younger pastors who may have checked out my blog. In one I had a few words of ENCOURAGEMENT for the shepherding ministry, and in the other some honest words of DISCOURAGEMENT because of the declining interest in preaching, especially what has been called “evangelistic preaching,” for lack of a better term. There is still a lot of preaching, of course, but what kind of preaching is usually considered best for this particular time in the history of Christ’s Church, and which kind of preaching is regarded as archaic by many contemporary preachers?
Unfortunately, “evangelistic preaching” in many Christian circles today is too often associated with that “Old Time Religion” (at its worst, not at its best). Even the good word “evangelism,” from which “evangelistic” is derived, has also fallen among thieves and been stripped and robbed of its original meaning. Both words have their root in the word “evangel,” which simply means a bringer of “good news” or “glad tidings.” The word “evangelism,” in a Christian context, refers primarily to the proclamation of the Gospel, (i.e. the Good News of Jesus Christ — His life, death, resurrection, ascension, glorification, abiding presence and continued ministry in and through His Church in the world). Of course, “evangelism” has a much broader meaning, for it also includes the doing of the Gospel, but in my use of these related words in the previous post I was appealing for a resurgence and revival of interest in evangelistic preaching (at its best). By that I mean preaching for a verdict, for the purpose of challenging and encouraging seekers to make a decision for Jesus Christ, to become Christians and members of Christ’s Church; and with the hope of inspiring nominal Christians and irregular church members to become more committed, consistent, and contagious followers of Jesus, in both their character and conduct.
I believe this should be a “given” in our understanding of our calling as pastors. I will continue to be confident that this should be number one on our list of priorities, not only in preaching but in the ministry of pastoral calling and pastoral care, unless other pastors can show me by the results of their ministry, a better way to honor our Lord in obedience to His commandments, under the authority of scripture. If you are a pastor who has been following other guidelines and have discovered or developed more effective modalities for building up the Body of Christ, I hope you will share them with me. Personally, I believe we should be guided in our ministry by the example of Jesus (our model), and the apostles (our examples). Deplore, as you may, much of the preaching that has been called “evangelical” or “evangelistic,” and describe, if you must, some of its superficiality and sentimentality, if it makes you feel any better about yourself and your own preaching—but I challenge you to match it in changed lives, if you can!
For after all, isn’t that what we should be examining when we take a long hard look at the results of our ministry? Oh, I know there will always be those who argue that we cannot really see those kind of results. Then, why does the Bible tell us that we will “know them by their fruits“ (Matthew 7:20)? According to Jesus, this is true of those in whose lives, both public and private, we see “good fruit,” and those in whose character and conduct we see “bad fruit” — “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit….The good person out of the good treasury of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of an evil treasury produces evil” (Luke 6:43-45). There are those who would use these words of Jesus to support the crooked contention that the primary aim of preaching is to discourage people from being bad and encourage them to be good.
I cannot help but wonder if preaching no more vital and virile than this has ever been used by the Holy Spirit to convict and convert anyone. Furthermore, the truth is that although none of us may ever be as bad as we could be, none of us will ever be as good as we should be! This is why our sinful world needs to know that genuine salvation and authentic reconciliation with God (and with one another) is not because of our own goodness, “not the result of good works, so that no one may boast”, but is “by grace through faith” ( i.e faith in the goodness of Jesus Christ, and trust in the power of His atoning death on the cross to deliver us from the power and penalty of sin (Ephesians 2:4-10).
Sin, simply defined, is alienation from God, a clenched fist thrust into the face of God, the stubborn refusal to live in obedience to God’s commandments, the desire to go our own way and do our own thing, to live by our own rules. This is the essence of sin — selfishness, self-centeredness, self-interest, self-advancement, which is the underlying cause of the major problems we face in this fallen and fragmented world: greed (enough is always more), the lust for power (and the abuse of power), corruption (an integrity crisis), immorality (calling good evil and evil good), and all the “isms” challenging Christ’s Church and threatening the common good: racism, secularism, materialism, humanism, militarism, an inflamed nationalism, fanaticism, terrorism, etc.
Some hopeful word needs to be said to this world where a sense of hopelessness and helplessness is so prevalent and pervasive. The Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that with God there is always hope. There are too many people living without hope, and we pastors must tell them, “As long as there is life, there is hope, and as long as there is hope there is life; but there is neither life nor hope without faith in God, the true and living God…”
- The “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,”
- The “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and “Our Father in heaven;”
- The God to whom we pray, our Creator God, the God of our salvation, the God who has the power to “make all things new;”
- The God who has been “our help in ages past, and is our hope for years to come;”
- The God who “…decided through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe”….all “those who are the called”….“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards…God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” (I Cor. 1:21 24, 26-29)
Finally, remember this warning: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart” (I Cor. 1:13). To quote a distinguished Bible scholar and personal friend, J.I Packer, “Cleverness is the curse of Christian communication.” Suffice it to say, do not try to be too wise in your preaching, and above all don’t try to be so clever, but “…proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom (and human cleverness) so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power” (I Cor. 1:17).