The preacher should be mastered by certain convictions rather than certain techniques. Here are five theological convictions that were presented to me in a class at Boyce College taught by Brian Payne. I remind myself of these often as I contemplate and dream about any future pulpit ministries in my life.
1. The preacher must have a biblical conviction about God
God is light. In Scripture, light most frequently stands for truth (John 8:12). God is sheer truth and has a desire to be known. It is the very nature of God to reveal himself. Revelation is God’s unveiling of his personal privacy. Similar to his work of creating heaven and earth, God reveals himself through his Word and creates new life through its proclamation. John tells us that God’s nature is the essence of the message the preacher is to bring: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). This should bring great assurance to the preacher that it is God’s nature to reveal himself. A faithful pulpit ministry is not dependent on schemes, creativity, methods, or catchy sermon series. It is dependent on the God who reveals himself in his Word.
God not only desires to reveal himself, but he has acted to reveal himself through various deeds. God has revealed himself through both creation and redemption. The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). God rescued Abraham from Ur, Israel from Egypt, Israel from Babylon, and his chosen people from the beginning to the end of history from sin.
God has also revealed himself in his word. God has spoken to explain his activity. God chose to reveal himself through words. This is highly significant for the preacher, because even the word made flesh, the climax of God’s revelation, Jesus, would have remained enigmatic if the apostles had not interpreted his person and work.
2. The preacher must have a biblical conviction about Scripture
Not only must the preacher have a biblical conviction about God, but he must have a biblical conviction about his word. Firstly, he must maintain that the Bible is God’s word in written form (2 Tim. 3:16). A second supposition that is necessary for a preacher to hold when he stands before a congregation is that God speaks through what he has inspired. One psalmist has written, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Ps. 95:7-8). The author of Hebrews tells us that it was the Holy Spirit who uttered this (Heb. 3:7, 15). The Holy Spirit is speaking today making the same appeal to his people to listen to him in the same way that he did centuries ago when that psalm was written. When the preacher proclaims what God has inspired, he is proclaiming the very words of God and there is unique and great power in them.
When we grasp the truth that God still speaks through what he has spoken, we can avoid two opposite errors:
- The belief that though God spoke in ancient times, his voice is silent today.
- The belief that though God is still speaking today, it may not have anything to do with Scripture.
The word of God is inactive apart from the Spirit, which is why Jesus said worship is only acceptable when done in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). The Spirit is mute apart from the word of God. They are that closely related.
The preacher must also believe that Scripture holds unique power. The word of God brought about creation and it brings about new creation. God’s word is described as,
- a hammer to break stony hearts (Jer. 23:29)
- a sword that pierces (Heb. 4:12)
- fire to burn up rubbish (Jer. 23:29)
- seed causing birth (1 Pt. 1:22-23)
- milk causing growth (1 Pt. 2:2)
- honey that sweetens (Ps. 19:10; 119:103)
- gold that enriches (Ps. 19:10)
When the preacher has this view of the word of God, he is on the path to be a faithful expositor of this powerful and desirable word.
3. The preacher must have a biblical conviction about the local church
The church is God’s new creation in Christ and thus signals that the end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus is the first man of the new creation. Thus, God’s new creation (the Church) is as dependent upon his word as his old creation (the universe). The church is therefore upheld only by the word of God. Only when the preacher views the church in this way can he faithfully exposit the word that is necessary for its perseverance.
4. The preacher must have a biblical conviction about the pastorate
There are many aspects of pastoral ministry outside of the pulpit. Some of these include,
There are many more aspects, but each of them must be grounded in the ministry of the word. All of the pastor’s responsibilities are utterly dependent on the word of God. But any preacher who neglects other aspects of the pastorate, does not appreciate the fullness of his role. Preaching informs and fuels all aspects of pastoral ministry. So, a strong biblical conviction about the role of the pastor greatly impacts the pulpit ministry.
5. The preacher must have a biblical conviction about preaching
Finally, preachers must have a biblically informed conviction about preaching itself. The expositor is only to be mouth and lips for the passage itself. I have heard it said that the preacher is to be a microphone held up to the word of God. The microphone doesn’t add any thoughts. It merely magnifies the voice of the speaker. The role of the preacher is to do just that; magnify the voice of the Speaker. Daniel Coggin once said,
The Christian preacher has a boundary set for him. When he enters the pulpit, he is not an entirely free man. There is a real sense in which it may be said of him that the Almighty has set him his bounds that he shall not pass.
The Preacher: Bound by the Gospel
The preacher is bound to these five theological convictions. And this binding is freeing for the soul of the preacher and the souls of those under his preaching. In the words of professor Brian Payne, “It is a great thing to come under the magnificent tyranny of the gospel!” When preachers try to be cute or entertaining or “relevant,” they have stepped outside this boundary and are teetering on betrayal of key fundamental theological foundations, without which preaching is devoid of both power and true biblical relevance.
Preachers have a grand responsibility; to expose the word of God to God’s people. They are not at liberty to invent or choose a message to preach. The message has been committed to him, and it is for him to declare, expound, and commend it to his hearers. According to J.I. Packer, the preacher “is a servant of God, of Christ, and of the Word. He is a steward of God’s revealed mysteries, called not to be brilliant and original but diligent and faithful”
The preacher is bound to the gospel and he will be a faithful expositor when he is committed to biblical convictions about God, Scripture, the local church, the pastorate, and preaching itself. And this is a grand thing.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). 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.