While the presence and importance of preaching in many churches is not only belittled, but viewed as insignificant at best and unnecessary at worst, historically and biblically this is simply not the case. Preaching is given massive priority in Scripture and historically, preaching has been viewed as the highlight of the Christian worship service, not the shadow. I have argued for the supremacy of the role of preaching elsewhere, so I will not spend time adding to such argumentation. Here i simply wish to remind both pastors and church members of the primacy and holiness of the preaching event.
In their highly influential book, On Being a Pastor, Derek Prime and Alistair Begg begin their chapter on preaching in the life of the pastor with a very succinct, appropriate, and necessary presupposition:
“All genuine shepherds and teachers are such by the appointment of the Great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ. Because He is our pattern and example, preaching claims priority in our work” (123).
Two things are important to notice here. Firstly, genuine pastors are called and empowered personally by Jesus to fulfill the task of shepherding the flock of God. Secondly, with Christ as our “pattern and example”, preaching is a high priority in the work of a pastor that can be fulfilled in total confidence. Pastors are only in the position of shepherd because of the calling of the Good Shepherd. This Shepherd entered his ministry preaching the glory of God in the gospel. “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4:17). Jesus spent his ministry preaching. Shepherds under this supreme Shepherd are to imitate his work by preaching the kingdom of God for the salvation of sinners and building up of the saints (Rom. 10:17; Eph. 4:11-13).
Preaching: The Grace by which Sinners Come to Christ
Preaching the word of Christ is the most glorious aspect of pastoring. Through preaching, the pastor exposes the word of God, exalts the excellencies of God in Jesus, teaches, exhorts, and rebukes the flock, and proclaims the message of the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1:16). In preaching, the pastor engages in spiritual warfare and takes part in a much larger cosmic war. Expository preaching is the dispense of grace whereby the message of God as intended by God is proclaimed. It is through this proclamation that the Spirit of God breathes life into dead hearts. While preaching is not the only means that sinners come to faith in Christ, it is definitely used by God for this purpose. Could there be a greater joy than exalting Jesus by expositing the Scriptures and witnessing him call one of his sheep to himself as they respond by faith?
As the pastor prepares his sermons, prays for his sermons, and presents his sermons, he must be aware and conscientious of the fact that there may be non-believers in the assembly of hearers. Therefore, a pastor’s sermons should all have somewhat of an evangelistic tone to them, at least as redemptive history is exposed and Christ is preached from every page of Scripture. While all sermons will obviously not be explicit expositions of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, I agree with J.I. Packer who says, “If one preaches the Bible biblically, one cannot help preaching the gospel all the time, and every sermon will be…at least by implication, evangelistic” (quoted by Prime and Begg, 137).
The pastor’s ultimate goal is to glorify God. And one major way of doing this is by making the gospel abundantly clear in every sermon, for it is the means through which enemies of God become friends of God. So, the pastor should preach the gospel to himself each day, pray for the grace and work toward the end of accurately expositing the inspired truth of God’s word. Pastors and church members alike should pray that through the preaching event, the Spirit of God would call sinners to himself. A vital purpose of preaching is for the salvation of sinners.
Preaching: The Grace by which the Saints are Conformed to Christ
But the purpose of the pastor’s role in preaching goes beyond this. The gospel is not simply for unbelievers. The gospel is for Christians too. The pastor is to preach in such a way that he equips the saints and builds up the church in order to increase his congregation’s knowledge of and love for God. God has saved his people in order for them to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). God has saved his people for the purpose of the praise of his glorious grace (Eph. 1:6). One means of grace through which this is carried out is the preaching of the pastor. The pastor is to be both preacher and teacher in the pulpit. He is to exalt and proclaim the glory of God in Jesus, but he is also to teach what the implications of these truths are. He is to apply the Word of God as he exposits it.
Sitting before the pastor each week are believers at varying levels of spiritual maturity. The more he grows in knowledge of his flock, the better he will be able to teach them. For example, if his flock is more mature and understands terms like “justification”, “glorification”, “divine election”, and “perseverance of the saints”, the pastor will be able to go deeper theologically with them than he would with them if they didn’t have said knowledge. Prime and Begg state it well:
The more we know the people we teach, the more sensitive we will be to the necessary mixture of teaching and preaching required in every message (On Being a Pastor, 126).
We do not want to dive so deep that we drown our flock and thereby keep them from growing. Though, at the same time, we do not want to be so shallow that they do not even feel the soothing cool waters of God’s glory and thereby do not grow at all. Admittedly, the latter is a bigger problem in the church today than the former. I believe preaching pastors should be guiding their church into deeper depths of the waters of God’s immense glory each week they stand before them. Pastors should preach and teach in the pulpit in order to lead the flock to follow the Christ who has redeemed them by his blood. The goal of salvation is to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). In other words, our purpose in life is to glorify God by becoming more like his Son until we perfectly image him in our glorified state. The pastor plays a unique and major role in equipping the saints to yearn and strive for Christlikeness.
No Greater Privilege
The pastor’s central work is the exposition of God’s word. The word of Christ is the grace that leads to justification and sanctification. It is the means through which God has chosen to reveal himself. This is a very holy aspect of the calling of a pastor as he participates with the Holy Spirit to open spiritually dead eyes to see the glory of God in Jesus (2 Cor. 4:4, 6). Although this post has highlighted the importance, seriousness, and holiness of the preaching event, which may cause apprehension and even fear in the hearts of pastors as Sunday approaches, I pray both pastors and church members would simply stand in awe of the work of God in the preaching event. I pray pastors would be encouraged as they prepare sermons and church members would see how vital preaching is to the health and growth of the church. There is no greater privilege than to preach God’s word. May we see the preaching event as holy worship ordained by God as the means for the advancement of the kingdom.
I echo and will close with these gloriously encouraging words from Prime and Begg:
There is no greater task in all the world than teaching and preaching the Word of God, for to us is committed the privilege of proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ and making plain the meaning of God’s great plan of salvation that was kept hidden until the coming of His Son (Ephesians 3:8-9). No greater privilege exists! (On Being a Pastor, 148)
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.