Note: This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”
In explaining the importance and high calling of preaching God’s Word, Lloyd-Jones reminds both preachers and listeners alike that “…the pew is never to dictate to, or control, the pulpit.” (156) But just as many aspects of ministry and theology are a tension, Lloyd-Jones as a pastor is quick to labor the balance point (in Chapter 8, “The Character of the Message”): “But having said that I would emphasize equally that the preacher nevertheless has to assess the condition of those in the pew and to bear that in mind in the preparation and delivery of his message.” (156)
The pastor that I work under, Pastor Mike Pohlman, has often explained this principle as, “Exposition is not done in a vacuum.” In other words, while the exposition of God’s Word is what outlines the message that will be preached on any given Sunday, the congregation needs to be kept in mind as the preacher forms the delivery and application of that message. Lloyd-Jones gets scriptural warrant for this idea from 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 and Hebrews 5:11-14. The writer of Hebrews would like to get into the doctrine of Christ as the great High Priest with more depth, but he doesn’t believe that his listeners are capable of receiving it yet.
This principle in preaching does not mean that a preacher changes the message, but that he explains it in a way that the people can understand and are more likely to receive. As I recently taught through Philippians with our High Schoolers on Sunday nights, the universal principle in the text was always the same as what I would have preached on a Sunday morning, but the delivery was not the same. I not only taught for less time on Sunday night to High Schoolers who had already sat under a 45 minute expository sermon and Sunday School class that morning, but I also tried to carefully choose illustrations and applications that they could use the next morning in their high school hallway.
Another aspect of this is the importance of a pastor knowing his people. I chose to preach through Romans 8 recently during a time of great mourning in our church because those bedrock, big picture truths of how God in the gospel brings His children all the way home, through both life and death, were what we needed under our feet. As I look out on the people in our church and see joyful marriages, struggling marriages, young believers, charter members of our 64 year old church, children, disabled people, people fighting cancer, widows and widowers, healthy single people and young families, I see sheep who need and want God’s Word. I must make sure that I do not change the message of God’s Word, but that I preach it to them–at this time and place–and to these precious people with all of their struggles and joys.
Lloyd-Jones also reminds us in this chapter that not everyone who regularly attends church is a believer. As ministers of the New Covenant we must preach the gospel as we teach the Bible. Not only will the Holy Spirit use this to awaken faith and to save, but keeping the gospel before believers will keep them fresh in their relationship with the Lord:
It is inconceivable to me that a man who is a true believer can listen to a presentation of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the glory of the Gospel, without being moved in two ways. One is to feel for a while, in view of what he knows about the plague of his own heart, that perhaps he is not a Christian at all; and then, to rejoice in the glorious Gospel remedy which gives him deliverance. (163)
Humanly speaking, the job of the preacher is impossible. To be faithful to the message while keeping the listeners in mind, and to feed both seasoned believers and preach the gospel to unbelievers, would be a task too great for any human to bear alone. But as preachers, we are not alone. As I said in my last post: the Spirit of God takes the Word of God and points to the Lamb of God to bring people to God. Or, as Lloyd-Jones explains it, “In a lecture you know what is happening, you are in control; but that is not the case when you are preaching. Suddenly, unexpectedly, this other element may break into a service–the touch of the power of the Spirit of God.” (166)
Source: Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.