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.

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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 Preacher

preach the wordNote:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”  I did not reach my goal of blogging through “Preaching and Preachers” by the end of the “Fall Semester,” but I realized that I am now a pastor, not a seminary student, as people, discipleship, and upcoming teaching and preaching are more important than my blog.  That does not mean I am not a student though!  The pastor is always a student–so I press on through “Preaching and Preachers” for the benefit of my own soul and the people that I have the privilege and joy of preaching to.

If you are not a pastor, Chapter Six, “The Preacher,” may at first seem to not apply to you.  But I encourage you to read on as there are several helpful points for anyone who listens to a sermon every Sunday, as well as for those searching for a church home.

A Concern for Souls
Lloyd-Jones points out several factors that a man considering the call to preach must take into account:

The true call always includes a concern for others, an interest in them, a realisation of their lost estate and condition, and a desire to do something about them, and to tell them the message and point them to the way of salvation.  (117)

Surely this concern for the souls of others is of utmost importance.  As Lloyd-Jones has reminded us before, the pastor is to be shepherding people to God in Christ–which means there will be a concern for either their salvation or discipleship if they already profess Christ as Savior.

Four Indispensable Things
After discussing the importance of a thorough seminary education including Bible knowledge, theology, original languages and church history, Lloyd-Jones discusses the ability to speak publicly as a consideration.  Then he boils it all down to four indispensable things that a preacher must have:

The chief thing is the love of God, the love of souls, a knowledge of the Truth, and the Holy Spirit within you.  These are the things that make the preacher.  If he has the love of God in his heart, and if he has a love for God; if he has a love for the souls of men, and a concern about them; if he knows the truth of the Scriptures; and has the Spirit of God within him, that man will preach.  (131)

What About Those Listening to Sermons?
Pray for your pastor!  My overwhelming sense as I read this chapter was one of inadequacy, which he addresses as he points to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:3, where Paul openly admitted that as he preached God’s Word he had a sense of weakness, fear, and trembling.  I praise God that Paul also pointed to the sufficiency of Christ: “Who is sufficient for these things? … as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:16b-17)  Pray that your pastor would find his sufficiency in Christ rather than himself–any pastor worth listening to would be grateful for those kinds of prayers.  And if you are looking for a church, look for the kind of pastor who has a humble boldness that depends on and points to Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2), seen through his reliance on God’s Word as he preaches, and a concern for the souls of people.

But in the end, Lloyd-Jones does not leave those who listen to sermons off the hook.  What attitude should we have when we come to hear God’s Word preached?

It is always the Word of God, and no one should ever listen to it except in a spirit of reverence and godly expectation of receiving a message.  (130)

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

Light and Heat in Preaching

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

If any chapter in Preaching and Preachers will at first seem to not apply to you if you are not a preacher, it is Chapter Five, “The Act of Preaching.”  fireplaceIt was a chapter I needed to read and that I long to grow in, especially after preaching to our beloved congregation the last two Sundays.  But, I want to challenge you to spend a few minutes contemplating these incredible quotes from Lloyd-Jones and then consider two important applications concerning multi-site churches and prayer even if you are not a preacher.

[Preaching] is ‘truth mediated through personality.’ (96, quoting Phillips Brookes)

The preacher should never be apologetic, he should never give the impression that he is speaking by their leave as it were; he should not be tentatively putting forward certain suggestions and ideas…He is a man, who is there to ‘declare’ certain things; he is a man under commission and under authority…He should always know that he comes to the congregation as a sent messenger…You have no self-confidence, but you are a man under authority, and you have authority [as God’s messenger]… (97)

It may sound contradictory to say ‘prepare, and prepare carefully,’ and yet ‘be free’.  But there is no contradiction…You will find that the Spirit Who has helped you in your preparation may now help you, while you are speaking, in an entirely new way, and open things out to you which you had not seen while you were preparing your sermon. (99)

How can a man be dull when he is handling such themes?  I would say that a ‘dull preacher’ is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull he is not a preacher.  He may stand in a pulpit and talk, but he is certainly not a preacher. (101)

He is concerned about them [the people he is preaching to]; that is why he is preaching to them.  He is anxious about them; anxious to help them, anxious to tell them the truth of God.  So he does it with energy, with zeal, and with this obvious concern for people. (101)

The preacher is a witness.  That is the very word used by our Lord Himself, ‘Ye shall be witnesses unto me’; and this is what the preacher must always be at all times.  Nothing is so fatal in a preacher as that he should fail to give the impression of personal involvement. (103)

Can a man see himself as a damned sinner without emotion?  Can a man look into hell without emotion?  Can a man listen to the thunderings of the Law and feel nothing?  Or conversely, can a man really contemplate the love of God in Christ Jesus and feel no emotion? (108)

Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. (110)

You must have light and heat, sermon plus preaching.  Light without heat never affects anybody; heat without light is of no permanent value. (110)

Any man who has had some glimpse of what it is to preach will inevitably feel that he has never preached.  But he will go on trying, hoping that by the grace of God one day he may truly preach. (112)

First, I want to challenge your thinking if you are drawn to the multi-site model of church.  In other words, an exceptionally gifted preacher preaches at one church, and other churches at different sites geographically (sometimes even across state boundaries) watch the sermon via a video feed.  There are other reasons that I struggle with this model, but here is a strong argument against most multi-site models of preaching:  Not only does the congregation miss some of the element of being there physically (and emotions, etc. that can easily be missed even through video) as the Holy Spirit uses His Word through a man who is an ambassador, but generally the congregation does not interact regularly with the pastor either.

You may be thinking, “But isn’t this how most mega-churches are anyway?”  I am not necessarily talking about knowing your pastor personally.  For 5 years during seminary my family and I attended Grace Community Church where John MacArthur is the Teaching Pastor with a membership of over 8,000.  I only met him a handful of times face to face and we never talked for more than a minute at once, but seeing him preach in person week after week had a profound impact on me that listening to him on the radio never has (which would be the same as watching him regularly on a video feed).

For example, I saw the compassion of Christ in him as he lovingly shepherded a member in the congregation with Down Syndrome from the pulpit during a Question and Answer Evening Worship Service.  Watching him stay after the service most weeks to talk with the line of people that inevitably formed encouraged my heart.  I met his children and grandchildren as I was involved in different ministries at the church.  I saw the truth modeled that Richard Cecil explained, “To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach quite another.” (105)  This personal interaction, no matter how involved or limited it is with a preacher (not simply a campus pastor that doesn’t preach often), is something that cannot be duplicated through a multi-site church model.  We need to be careful that we are not so enamored with a certain style of preaching that we cannot stand to sit under the preaching of a man that is human, a fellow pilgrim, who is so much more than a talking head.

Second, I want to challenge you to pray for your pastor. Lloyd-Jones explains, “It is not surprising that the Apostle Paul, looking at the ministry, asks ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’…What are you doing?  You are not simply imparting information, you are dealing with souls, you are dealing with pilgrims on the way to eternity, you are dealing with matters not only of life and death in this world, but with eternal destiny.” (104)  Brothers and sisters, in light of such a glorious but weighty responsibility, pray for your pastor!

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.