May God Save the Queen
By Thomas Lindberg
In one of the finest books on preaching to be published in the last 15 years Christ-Centered Preaching author Bryan Chappell quotes one of his former professors. He states that Robert Rayburn would say to his students in preaching classes, “Let Christ be the only King of your studies and let homiletics be the queen.”1 Let me add: May God save the queen.
As one reads the glorious history of the church of the living God over the past 500 years, he will come to the undeniable conclusion that one of the principal factors that causes the church to rise and be strong in a city or nation is the quality of preaching from the pulpit. C.M. Ward, who built a church into the thousands and a radio audience into the millions, wisely said: “I am persuaded that no great church can be built without a preacher. The name of the game is preaching. My favorite verse is Paul to the Corinthians, who said, ‘It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe’ (1 Corinthians 1:21, KJV).2 It is a cliché, but it is true. It does not mean foolish preaching. But preaching has an element to it that the best engineered commercial can never touch. It is more than sales; it is crackling with the issues of life in a ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ It is bringing an answer to human nature that is as restless as the sea, tossing up constantly. It is an unrivaled position of power to stand behind that pulpit and declare as Gods ambassador, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it’ ” (Isaiah 30:21, KJV).
I began in the ministry during the early 1970s. Over the years I have seen many changes take place in church ministry, from bus ministries and house churches to mega churches and growth groups. Some of the new ideas have been good and are now integrated into God’s ongoing work. But some ideas that attracted national attention then only exist in the pages of forgotten books in used bookstores. How quickly today’s headlines become tomorrow’s fish wrappers.
One principle, however, that has not changed is preaching. (Now, yes, the style of preaching is continually changing, but the mandate for preaching will never change. You see, the only thing that will replace great preaching is greater preaching.) Paul’s words were true when he charged Timothy, and they are still true today: “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2, KJV).
But how should we preach? Years ago I memorized a saying that puts it so well: Methods are many. Principles are few. Methods always change. Principles never do.
Let’s take the word P-R-E-A-C-H and discover six principles of effective preaching for any person, in any place, and at any time.
P = Propositional Preaching
The word propositional means “an expression in language of something that can be believed or denied, or is either true or false.” That is what our preaching focused on Jesus Christ should be. You see, the Scriptures are “the word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16, NIV).3 This implies that when we preach the Scriptures, we are actually preaching Christ. You will never go wrong in your preaching by following the example of our Lord on the Emmaus road: “Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself’ (Luke 24:27, KJV). All Scripture is inspired, and when properly and propositionally presented points to Jesus.
Charles Spurgeon thundered: “The best sermons are those which are full of Christ. A sermon without Christ in it is an awful thing. It is an empty well; it is a cloud without rain; it is a tree twice dead; plucked up by the roots.” Then Spurgeon put the preacher in his place who preaches without Christ at the center of his sermon: “If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ, it ought to be his last, and certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.” The sermon differs dramatically from a psychological lecture, a motivational presentation, or a moral lesson. It is propositionally declaring the person and work of Jesus Christ.
What is a preacher? Well, he is many things. Preachers are:
- Fishermen. “Come, follow Me … and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17, NIV).
- Ambassadors. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV).
- Witnesses. “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20, NIV).
- Harvesters. “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’ “ (Matthew 9:37, NIV).
- Shepherds. “Feed my lambs. … Take care of My sheep” (John 21:15,16, NIV).
- Rescuers. “Snatch others from the fire and save them” (Jude 23, NIV).
- Soldiers. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4, NIV).
- Stewards. “We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4, NIV).
In every one of those analogies, preachers are to promote Christ. Remember that the believers in your pews are to be like trees (Psalm 1:3), not like rootless tumbleweeds, blown about by every new fad. That requires propositional preaching.
R = Relational Preaching
We have all heard the old joke: “My pastor is invisible 6 days a week and then incomprehensible the seventh.” Probably the reason he is incomprehensible on Sunday is because he does not relate and connect with his people from Monday through Saturday.
As I read the life of Jesus in the gospels, I discover a Friend who converses at the dinner table, attends weddings, weeps with mourners, plays with children, feeds the hungry, reasons with the doubters, and welcomes the rejected. No wonder when He preached, huge crowds gathered and were astonished at His preaching.
The old adage is still true: relationship determines response. Translated into your ministry and church it means the relationship you have with people as their pastor will greatly determine the response you receive from them as you preach. The preacher who is not related to his people as their pastor can quickly become a suspected hypocrite.
I recall a conversation I had with a good, young preacher. He told me, “All I want to do is to get God’s Word across to my people.”
I replied, “Well, if that’s all you want to do, why not play a sermon tape each Sunday from some gifted preacher and spend the time you take to pray and prepare sermons playing golf?” (The tragedy is some pastors almost do just that.)
I continued and reasoned with this promising preacher, “God’s people in your church need to hear a personal witness to the power of God’s Word from someone they know, touch, and can trust.” That demands we connect with our people and then preach relationally.
One of the complaints people in churches have is too many ministers preach in the past tense. To use the famous statement by Phillips Brooks: “We need God’s truth through our personalities.” You see, it is not your job to preach the Bible; it is your job to preach about life today and use the Bible as your sufficient and authoritative foundation. Abstract truth may excite the two or three philosophers in your audience, but it will never change the life of the average worshiper. Know your people, and preach relationally about life from the Bible.
E = Expectant Preaching
John Calvin wrote and spoke about the testirnonium during the preaching. What did the reformer imply by using that Latin word? Calvin said that the Holy Spirit was present when God’s Word was preached by God’s man. He (the Holy Spirit) would testify to the heart, mind, and will of people in the audience that what the preacher was saying was true. In your preaching, it is imperative for you to believe and expect that to occur.
When you consider what the Bible says about preaching, you gain a better understanding of how we can preach and expect God to work in the lives of our listeners. For example, “I am watching over My word to perform it,” God promised His spokesman (Jeremiah 1:12, NASB).4 Be assured, while you are proclaiming, He is performing. What a strengthening thought.
Let’s go further. Psalm 119:130 guarantees, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (NIV). That clearly promises the preacher that God is letting in the light while we are giving out the sermon. We must believe and then think on that while we preach. Remember, God attends His Word and “at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, NIV).
You may not agree with me, but I believe God can save anyone at anytime they hear the gospel message. We must declare God’s Word with that expectation, for every person needs to hear the gospel. I remember Billy Graham telling us of a time he was preparing for a major crusade in Cleveland. Six months before the crusade, Graham wrote to the mayor and asked for a list of citizens in Cleveland who needed prayer. The mayor sent Graham the Cleveland phone book. He also included a note that read something like this: “Billy, every person in our city needs God, and I’m expecting anyone who comes to your crusade to find spiritual strength.” Graham told us this convicted him and he began to approach every crusade with renewed expectation.
Preacher, you need to do the same thing every time you declare God’s Word. Be an expectant preacher.
A = Accurate Preaching
What is good preaching? That is a question that hangs in the mind of every devoted preacher who desires to give God his best. Is preaching good because it produces visible results, and as a result our members compliment us and church attendance increases? Or was a sermon good because some people became convicted (maybe angry?) and left the church? You cannot measure ministry like you measure and cut a board when making a doghouse, but one trait of good preaching is that it must be accurate.
The authority of our message does not come from the fact one day we were ordained to ministry, as important as that is. Nor does it come from the nodding approval of people. Let’s settle it once and for all: Our authority comes from accurately handling the Word.
Second Timothy 2:15 is pivotal at this point: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (NKJV).5 The words “rightly dividing” are a translation of one Greek word, and it is a construction word. It was used of road builders who would cut a straight, clear path through woods or hills to make travel easier. The preacher is to do the same thing. He must accurately understand and present his text so people can safely travel through life on their way to heaven.
For example, in 2 Chronicles 18, Ahab, king of Israel and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, were planning to go to war together against Ramoth Gilead. Jehoshaphat suggests they inquire of God for direction. Ahab gathered 400 prophets and asked them for a word from God. “Go,” they answered, “for God will give it into the King’s hand” (verse 5).
Jehoshaphat senses something is not quite right and asks for a prophet of the Lord. Reluctantly, Ahab calls for a prophet named Micaiah. What will this prophet say?
“The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Look, as one man the other prophets are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.’ But Micaiah said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what my God says’ “ (verses 12,13).
Four hundred prophets disagreed with him, but Miciah’s message proved to be accurate. You see, when you are no longer controlled by “thus says the Lord,” accurately interpreting and declaring that, you start preaching opinions instead of convictions. When a preacher does that, he may please himself and some people, but he will not please the Lord.
The world in which we live today is deceptive. One crying need of the hour is for people to hear an accurate word of truth (see John 17:17). This will allow people in our churches to clear their minds of deception and begin to renew their minds (see Romans 12:10). Mark Twain said a lie can run around the world while truth is still lacing up her boots, and that was before the development of cell phones and e-mail. An accurate unfolding of Scripture is desperately needed in a day when the average American watches more than 20 hours of television each week and is convinced that is the real world. Will you be a preacher who accurately presents and declares the Word of God? I am convinced that is a need of our day.
One last issue before we move on to our next letter is to remember that accurate preaching does not need to be dull preaching. Use your imagination. Think creatively. Pray for illumination. I tell preachers their sermons should be like M.U.D.
M = Memorable.
U = Understandable.
D = Doable.
Make your sermons memorable, understandable, and doable. When all that rises from a foundation of accuracy, you are a preacher God will use.
C = Convincing Preaching
No one who opens God’s Word and delivers His message has the right to take an attitude that says, “I’ve brought to you what God has to say. Now you can take this message or leave it. That’s up to you.” While it is true that we do not want to manipulate people into accepting the gospel and ultimately Christ, the preacher must convincingly preach and urge people to move God’s direction.
For example, when Peter concluded his Pentecostal sermon in Acts 2:14–39, the historian Luke adds, “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40, NIV). What was Peter doing? He was demonstrating convincing preaching.
The minister must wear several hats as he declares the Bible. Because God’s Word is the sharp sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12), there are times we must wield the sword against all enemies and penetrate the heart (and sometimes wound) to bring healing. What David said of Goliath’s sword, we can say about the sword of God’s Word: “There is none like it” (1 Samuel 21:9, NIV).
I recall my boyhood pastor, Frank Lindquist, holding the Bible in his hand and telling us with conviction, “This is God’s Word. Follow it and be blessed.” He was right. Without that heartfelt conviction in the minister, our churches will become nothing more than museums where we have embalmed the past and then gather once a week to admire the corpse.
I vividly recall the day Michelle (not her real name) came to see me. She told me that she neededto speak with me and get my counsel. For the next 50 minutes I listened to her. I could not get a word in edgewise. Twice I was able to say, “Michelle, what will it profit you if you gain the whole world and then lose your soul?” (Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25). Her life was more twisted and tangled than a fishing reel with backlash. Finally she thanked me for my time, and then left.
I saw her 2 weeks later. She said, “I could not get out of my mind that verse from the Bible you quoted to me. I’ve been thinking about it for the past 2 weeks. I’m ready to give my life to Jesus and ask Him to change me.”
She did, and so did God. What was the key? A settled conviction about the Word of God, whether it is being declared to one person or 4,000 people.
Any honest preacher worth his salt is aware that no amount of talent, experience, or homiletical skill can produce the full power needed to come from the pulpit. Effective witness to the Lord Jesus comes only through the power of the Spirit (see Acts 1:8). 1 believe we need the gospel to come to people “not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5, NIV). That is convincing preaching.
A ministry that lacks conviction will be shallow and offer superficial solutions to serious problems. Like the phony prophets in Jeremiah’s day, unconvincing preachers “ ‘dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, where there is no peace’ “ (Jeremiah 6:14, NIV). It is sobering to hear say that many will claim to be true believers on judgment day, but that He will have to reject them because they never really trusted Him (see Matthew 7:21–23). We must preach messages that penetrate the heart, not merely tickle the ears. I am persuaded that requires convincing preaching.
H = Happy Preaching
What do I mean? I mean that the effective preacher will have a joyful heart because he experiences “the joy of the Lord” as his strength (Nehemiah 8:10, NIV). You see, we dare not preach out of the abundance of our library, sermon tapes, or Internet pastoral services. Instead we need to preach “out of the abundance of the heart” (Matthew 12:34, KJV). Real preaching comes from an overflow, and unless there is a spiritual overflow in our lives of joy, our preaching will soon become dry and fruitless.
The cynic, George Bernard Shaw, once suggested that if other planets are inhabited, they are using earth as their insane asylum. If you look around and you are honest, there are times when it seems he is right. At home, in our job, on the campus, and even at church, relationships are too often strained; and, there is not enough joy to fill a thimble. Only Jesus can reconcile people to God, then to each other, and deposit His joy deep in their hearts (see John 15). No minister can do that; however, his positive attitude and joyful preaching can surely help to make a difference.
A preacher-friend of mine had bypass heart surgery. He was laid up for 3 weeks. I spoke with him at length when he was easing back into a full day’s workload and also preaching each Sunday.
“Bob, what’s the best remedy you’ve found for strength and recovery?” I’ll always remember his answer.
He replied. “Tom, when I study the Bible and then stand in church to preach, I discover I gain strength and no other exercise helps me as much. I announce the joy of knowing Jesus Christ to my people, and His joy empowers my life as I preach.”
Once a person discovers this biblical principle, we must allow it to control our lives and energize the work we do. I believe a preacher must live so our devotion to Christ opens our eyes to see Him in the Bible, a willing mind to obey Him, a ready tongue to proclaim Him, and a joyful, happy heart to serve Him. Preaching is far more than an introduction, three or four points, some great illustrations, and then a gripping conclusion. Preaching must include a heart and a life that is filled with joy, and that is seen on our faces and in our actions.
In a world mesmerized by electronic wonders, everything from television to cyberspace, the preaching of the Bible by a man or woman called by God is still important and is still being blessed by God. Paul dipped his pen into the ink of inspiration and wrote it this way in 2 Corinthians 10:3–5: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (NIV).
While vacationing in Switzerland, the famed Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte was approached by a minister seeking directions about his future. The man was deeply discouraged and admitted he did not know what to preach or even how to preach. He was contemplating quitting the ministry.
Whyte replied, “Never think like that. Angels in heaven envy you and your great work. Go on.”
You see, angels could be eloquent heralds of God’s truth, but they could never be witnesses of God’s grace. Who is capable or sufficient for such a task? No one. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57, NKJV). Preacher, you’re on the winning team.
1. Bryan Chappell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 17.
2. Scripture quotations marked “KJV” are from the King James Version.
3. Scripture quotations marked “NIV” are taken from HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSIONÂ®. Copyright Â© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.”
4. Scripture quotations marked “NASB” are taken from the New American Standard BibleÂ®, Copyright Â© 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
5. Scripture quotations marked “NKJV” are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright Â© 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.