In the last decade I have invested a lot of time in public speaking. With employee meetings, plenary sessions, breakouts at conferences, consulting ministry leaders, and speaking on books I have written, I have given hundreds and hundreds of leadership and ministry presentations. I have also preached weekly for the last several years as teaching pastor, interim pastor, and now a bi-vocational senior pastor. Preaching is different. In both the burden of responsibility and the eternal impact, preaching the Word of God to a congregation of His people far outweighs speaking on other subjects. Preaching differs from other speaking in that the message we deliver is the only message that will endure forever (Isaiah 40:8), the only message that brings someone to saving faith (Romans 10:17), and the only message that can transform the human heart (1 Peter 1:23).
So what is my aim in preaching? My good friend Ed Stetzer asked me that recently and it caused me to jot down some of my thoughts. One way to describe this sacred stewardship is “Teach Christ and the text in their context.” The aim is three-fold:
1. Teach Christ
The apostle Paul reminded those he ministered to in the city of Corinth that he decided to know nothing among them “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). It is possible to teach a passage and not teach Christ’s work for us, but doing so isn’t faithful to the whole story of Scripture and fails to change hearts with the grace of Jesus. Of his preaching, Charles Spurgeon said, “I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross.” In other words, he would walk through the text while simultaneously moving people to Christ and the cross as quickly as possible.
2. and the text
While we must point people to Christ continually, we must also properly expound the text we are teaching. In his book Preaching, Tim Keller advocates this balance: “We have a balance to strike—not to preach Christ without preaching the text, and not to preach the text without preaching Christ.” The text must be opened. The Scripture must be expounded. Preachers who don’t hold tightly to the truth, trustworthiness, and power of the Word will find something else to expound. And whatever else they find is less and pales in comparison. If people don’t see us holding tightly to the Word in our messages, we are foolish to think they will hold tightly to the Word in their own lives.
3. in their context
The teacher/preacher must place the life-changing message in the context of those listening. To place the message in the context of those listening is to be faithful to how the Lord has served us, stepping into this broken and fallen world to rescue us. He also placed the written Word in modern street language, as Calvin Miller reminded us: “We must remember that the New Testament was not born in colonnaded Greek. Koine Greek is, of course, ‘street’ Greek. The gospel of Christ was written in friendly street language.” Because we love the people we speak to, we must aim to make the message of Christ accessible to them. To do so requires a love for those we are speaking to. Without love preachers are merely resounding gongs and clanging cymbals, merely clutter without compassion. Anglican preacher Richard Cecil stated, “To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach quite another.”