The Preparation of the Sermon

20141008_111221Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”  I continue to plod, learn, and be encouraged–chapter by chapter.

The picture above is one of the reasons that I am reading and blogging about Preaching and Preachers.  I received this note today from a Kindergartner in our church.  We too often forget that preaching impacts everyone in the church–even 5 year olds.  As you can see, she wrote, “Dear Pastor, Thank you for preaching the God.”  That is what Lloyd-Jones is trying to help us do better.

Lloyd-Jones turns from the personal preparation of the preacher (as a man growing in Christ), to the preparation of the actual sermon in Chapter 10, “The Preparation of the Sermon.”  The importance of this topic cannot be overstated.  As Lloyd-Jones explains, “Preaching prepares the way for all the other activities of a minister.” (199)

I appreciate how Lloyd-Jones shows a dependence on the Spirit of God for leading to a particular preaching text, while also strongly advocating series that preach through a book of the Bible.  He not only advocates this dependence on the Spirit during normal seasons, but also during holidays when people’s hearts are more tender, or during exceptional times in the community like a great tragedy.  “Though you may have planned out the greatest series of sermons the world has ever known, break into it if there is an earthquake!  If you cannot be shaken out of a mechanical routine by an earthquake you are beyond hope!” (207)

Although Lloyd-Jones personally preferred regular preaching through a book of the Bible, he is eager to tie preachers back to the Word even when not preaching a series.  “The matter should always be derived from the Scriptures, it should always be expository.” (210)  One way to do this, is to ask questions in the preparation of the sermon.  Why did he say that?  Why did he say it in this particular way?  “One of the first things a preacher has to learn is to talk to his texts.  They talk to you, and you must talk to them.  Put questions to them.” (215)

We do not want to be guilty of preaching our own theological pets or our own advice.  We need to preach the Word of God!  “I cannot overemphasize the importance of our arriving at the main thrust, the main message of our text.  Let it lead you, let it teach you.  Listen to it and then question it as to its meaning, and let that be the burden of your sermon.” (217)

Kindergartners can understand this.  My little friend in our church family hit it right on the head: “Thank you for preaching the God.”  I will only preach the true God as I preach His Word, His gospel.  As the Apostle Paul exclaims, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

The (Week In, Week Out) Preparation of the Preacher

preacher studying

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”  I continue to plod, learn, and be encouraged–chapter by chapter.

Lloyd-Jones turns to “The Preparation of the Preacher” in Chapter Nine, meaning how a preacher prepares himself personally (apart from specific sermon preparation, which will be the next chapter) week in and week out to preach.  He covers the areas of self-discipline, prayer, Bible reading, and other reading–all areas that are helpful to any Christian to consider now and then.

Self-Discipline
It is important for a preacher to have self-discipline because of generally having more control of his schedule than other jobs.  Lloyd-Jones is not saying that this is because a pastor has too much free time, but rather that he must be self-disciplined with the time he has because the demands of ministry will take away the time needed for study for preaching otherwise!  His recommendation is to safeguard the mornings for study and use the afternoons for other ministry responsibilities, but he also gives great wisdom in encouraging each pastor to personally realize what time of day he is most effective in study.

Prayer
Surprisingly, but refreshingly for a “spiritual giant,” Lloyd-Jones does not say that a pastor must begin prayer at 4am or he has not done his duty.  But of course, he encourages times set aside for regular prayer.  The most helpful nugget to me in this section was the recommendation to always respond to every impulse to pray.  As he explains, “The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you are battling with a text.  I would make an absolute law of this–always obey such an impulse.  Where does it come from?  It is the work of the Holy Spirit…So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy.  Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing, but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect.” (182-183)

This is one of the great privileges of being a pastor that we may miss if we are not reminded that it is indeed a privilege.  When I worked as a Sales Rep during seminary, there were countless moments of quick prayer in my heart.  But I never could have stopped what I was doing and spent even a minute in concentrated prayer because then I would not have been doing my job.  The pastor, on the other hand, can pray, and pray often.  Some of the most intimate times of personal prayer and worship have been when I have been studying for a sermon, and suddenly the truth of what I have been seeing in God’s Word will explode in my heart in praise.  Surely this should be expected.  God’s Word should move us to worship.  But Lloyd-Jones encourages us to go with it–to actually stop and pray when those moments come.

Bible Reading
Lloyd-Jones’ main advice is to read the Bible systematically so that you do not only read favorite sections of Scripture.  He also recommends that all preachers read through the whole Bible in its entirety at least once every year.  There is another invaluable nugget in this section of Chapter Nine: while Lloyd-Jones says to not read the Bible to find texts for sermons–but rather because it is the food that God has provided for your soul, he also strongly recommends stopping and making skeleton outlines of sermons when a passage hits you hard or opens up while you read.  There is wisdom from years of preaching here: “A preacher has to be like a squirrel and has to learn how to collect and store matter for the future days of winter.” (185)

Reading for the Soul
In addition to Bible reading, Lloyd-Jones insists that other reading is necessary for a preacher to stay sharp and educated, to get wisdom, and to hone his thinking skills.  This is a constant, and he acknowledges that it is a constant battle to find time to read in addition to Bible reading, sermon prep, prayer, and other ministry duties.  He recommends the Puritans (especially Richard Sibbes) for devotional reading, as well as regular reading in theology, church history, biographies, and even personal reading in other areas such as history or science.

I am thankful for Lloyd-Jones’ continued practical advice and encouragement to pray without ceasing, and to make time for Bible reading and other books.  All of this is not to make a pastor puffed up, but to keep him fresh and growing. “The preacher is not meant to be a mere channel through which water flows; he is to be more like a well.” (192)  There are always many things crying for a pastor’s attention, but to use another analogy, the blade must be polished and sharpened constantly.

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

The Message of the Preacher

preach the word

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.

The Congregation

preach the word

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones turns to the congregation in Chapter 7 of Preaching and Preachers.  Considering that this book was originally published in 1972, it has amazing relevance to today.  In talking about modern men and women and how the “pew” too often now tries to dictate to the “pulpit,” Lloyd-Jones defends the idea of a pastor opening the Bible and preaching from the text.

We are told that today they cannot think and follow reasoned statements, that they are so accustomed to the kind of outlook and mentality produced by newspapers, television and films, that they are incapable of following a reasoned, argued statement…

…Another form which it takes is to say that these people cannot understand the biblical terminology, that to talk about Justification and Sanctification and Glorification is meaningless to them… (135)

Lloyd-Jones explains that although people in the congregation at different levels of maturity (and even different ages) will be able to comprehend biblical truths on different levels, that there should be a simplicity to our preaching that all can understand: “There is no greater fallacy than to think that you need a gospel for special types of people.” (141)

I praise God that I serve a congregation who hungers for God’s Word.  We are a local body that ranges from men with Master of Divinity degrees to stay at home moms to university professors to little children.  We have union workers and high-level programmers and custodians all sitting in our pews on Sunday.  We have believers who have walked with God for over 60 years and others who are still asking questions about who Jesus is.  My job is to tie myself to God’s Word and proclaim Christ Jesus and Him crucified.

Times will change.  Times have changed since Lloyd-Jones wrote Preaching and Preachers.  Education level and careers and technology and even spiritual maturity will be in a constant state of flux in our world.  But there are several constants that I thank Lloyd-Jones for reminding me of: people are sinners, Jesus is a great Savior, and the Holy Spirit speaks powerfully to people through His preached Word!

With the Apostle Paul I declare, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)  The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and points to the Lamb of God to bring people to God.  That will never change.

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

What is Expository Preaching?

preach the word

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”

My life was changed by expository preaching.  I had heard the Bible and the gospel taught from the time I was born, but during my sophomore year of high school I started to hear a kind of preaching I had never heard consistently before.  Through my Grandpa Cordell Baker, our Interim Pastor at that time and then our next Pastor, Mark Waite (who I later had the great privilege of working with in New Mexico for almost 6 years), I heard God’s Word preached in a way that made me want to look to God’s Word for all direction, hope, knowledge, and experience of Christ.  As I sat under this powerful teaching my last few years of high school, God used His Word to change my heart from a budding legalist to a lover of Christ.

What is expository preaching?  There is much more that could be said, but Lloyd-Jones helps us out in Chapter 4, “The Form of the Sermon”:

Expository Preaching is Thoroughly Biblical
In other words, expository preaching is not just based on a Scriptural text, it comes out of the text.  It is biblical in the sense that it is preaching the Bible.  “You do not start with a thought, even though it be a right thought, a good thought; you do not start with that, and then work out an address on that…it should be clear to people that what we are saying is something that comes out of the Bible.  We are presenting the Bible and its message.” (85-86)

Expository Preaching is Theological
“…the preacher must have a grasp, and a good grasp, of the whole biblical message, which is of course a unity…That is the meaning of the phrase ‘comparing Scripture with Scripture’.  We must not deal with any text in isolation…The right use of systematic theology is, that when you discover a particular doctrine in your text you check it, and control it, by making sure that it fits into this whole body of biblical doctrine which is vital and essential. (77-78)

Expository Preaching Preaches the Gospel, Not Just About the Gospel
“The business of the preacher is not to present the Gospel academically…we are called to preach the Gospel, to convey it, and to bring it directly to the individuals who are listening to us, and to bring it to the whole man.  So let us be clear that we are not to talk about the Gospel as if it were something outside of us…it itself is being directly presented and conveyed to the congregation through us.” (79)

Expository Preaching is More Than a Running Commentary
“I maintain that a sermon should have form in the sense that a musical symphony has form…You are not an antiquary lecturing on ancient history or on ancient civilizations, or something like that.  The preacher is a man who is speaking to people who are alive today and confronted by the problems of life; and therefore you have to show that this is not some academic or theoretical matter which may be of interest to people who take up that particular hobby, as others take up crossword puzzles or something of that type.  You are to show that this message is vitally important for them, and that they must listen with the whole of their being, because this really is going to help them to live.” (83, 86-87)

It is obvious as you consider the immensity of the preacher’s task, that expository sermons take time and hard work to develop.  Every pastor needs the prayers and encouragement of his people to be faithful to God’s calling to preach the Word! 

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Why Preaching and Not Conversation?

preach the word

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”

Why do we gather for a sermon each Sunday and not a conversation?  Why do I love leading a Growth Group (where we do have discussion and conversation about God’s Word), but would balk at the idea of not listening to a sermon preached on Sunday?  Lloyd-Jones gives four reasons in Chapter 3, “The Sermon and the Preaching.”

God Does Not Want to Be Debated
In our post-modern, post-Christian America, this is probably the point in this chapter that evangelicals would most commonly divide on.  For a preacher to stand up and declare God’s message seems brash to many in our culture and times.  The question then is, is the preacher declaring his own thoughts or those of God?  “An ambassador is not a man who voices his own thoughts or his own opinions or views, or his own desires.  The very essence of the position of the ambassador is that he is a man who has been ‘sent’ to speak for somebody else.” (71)  If the preacher believes that he has a message from God (from the Bible) for the people, it is not an apologetic message.  There are other venues for edifying or evangelistic conversation such as home Bible studies, but in preaching, “We believe in the almighty, the glorious, the living God…we must never put ourselves…into a position in which we are debating about God as if He were but a philosophical proposition.” (58)

Christianity is Not Entertainment
Yes, these lectures were given 44 years ago.  And yes, if the point that “God does not want to be debated” in preaching rubs our current evangelical culture the wrong way, then “Christianity is not entertainment” points to maybe the second biggest issue in answering the question, “Why preaching and not conversation?”  Does the preacher bring the Word of the living God?  Do we truly believe that eternity is real and that Jesus is the only Savior?  We should not listen to a sermon to be entertained, although we may enjoy the sermon and laugh now and then.  We should listen to a sermon to hear from God through His Word.  I love Lloyd-Jones’ perspective: “I am a vehicle, I am a channel, I am an instrument, I am a representative.” (71)  God in Christ offers something so much greater than entertainment.

Spiritual Things are Spiritually Discerned
1 Corinthians 2:14 explains, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”  When we gather to hear preaching on Sundays, there are those whose eyes have been opened to Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6) and who have the Holy Spirit to illuminate God’s Word to them, and those who need to know Christ and be reconciled to God.  God’s Word is foolishness to them until that happens.  These circumstances that the Bible explains require hearing from God through preaching the Word when the church primarily gathers for worship, rather than a conversation or debate.

Preaching Smashes Pride
“The first thing that has to be done with the man who does not accept the Christian faith is to humble him…All men have to be converted and ‘become as little children.’  All they know, and all they are, and all they have, and all they have done, is utterly useless in this realm.  There is no hope for them until they become aware of their utter bankruptcy…Truth is revealed to us in the Scriptures and by the illumination that the Holy Spirit alone can produce…I [Lloyd-Jones] argue therefore that this whole notion of having a debate or a discussion or exchange of views concerning these matters is something that is contrary to the very character and nature of the Gospel itself.” (61)

So, even in the 21st century, we continue to preach.  We continue to “preach Christ crucified,” (1 Corinthians 1:23), and we continue to preach the Word as “ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

No Substitute for Preaching in the Church

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”

With any area of ministry, we must have God-ordained reasons for doing what we are doing or it is not really ministry.  These theological underpinnings not only keep us on track, but also invite God’s blessing because we can know with confidence that what we are doing is what He has commanded.  Jesus bought the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28).  We want to serve Christ with full knowledge that we are doing the task He has given us as we will one day give an account (Hebrews 13:17), and as He has promised His presence and power (Matthew 28:18-20).

In Chapter 2, “No Substitute,” Lloyd-Jones asserts “that the ultimate justification for asserting the primacy of preaching is theological…the moment you consider man’s real need, andPreaching and Preachers also the nature of the salvation announced and proclaimed in the Scriptures, you are driven to the conclusion that the primary task of the Church is to preach and to proclaim this, to show man’s real need, and to show the only remedy, the only cure for it.” (37)

Forty-four years after these words were spoken, man’s need and Christ’s salvation remain the same.  However, if the church is afraid to lovingly but confidently teach that man is a great sinner in need of a great Savior, then certainly preaching will begin to change.  In fact, in many churches it has.  We must hold onto the biblical truths that man is completely spiritually dead without Christ, and that Christ is the only way to salvation.  These truths are not popular in our pluralistic feel-good culture, but they are the most loving.

Lloyd-Jones, a medical doctor before he became a preacher, explains that if a doctor sees a man in pain and simply gives him morphine because he hates to see people in pain–but ignores the symptoms that point to a disease–then he is actually doing a criminal act (42).

May we have this laser focus as we consider our own churches, our own ministries, look for a church, or pray for our pastor:  “…the primary task of the Church is not to educate man, is not to heal him physically or psychologically, it is not to make him happy.  I will go further; it is not even to make him good.  These are things that accompany salvation; and when the Church performs her true task she does incidentally educate men and give them knowledge and information, she does bring them happiness, she does make them good and better than they were.  But my point is that those are not her primary objectives.  Her primary purpose is not any of these; it is rather to put man into the right relationship with God, to reconcile man to God.” (41)

With all of our technology today, we might ask the question: Why do we still need preaching?  Why can’t we simply do church at home or a coffee shop on the internet, or on TV, or by reading a book?  Lloyd-Jones helps us with an often-overlooked truth:  “Now the Church is a missionary body, and we must recapture this notion that the whole Church is a part of this witness to the Gospel and its truth and its message.  It is therefore most important that people should come together and listen…that has an impact in and of itself.” (52)  What a joy, to think that one way you are a missionary is by simply worshiping at church on any given Sunday!  We need to hear preaching together, and we need to hear preaching that is not afraid of proclaiming man’s greatest need and our only Savior.

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.