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What is Good Preaching? And Does it Really Matter?

What is good preaching and does it really matter?

Preaching is one of those words that, for the most part, makes us think of things like: Church, Sunday, a Preacher, etc. But, what makes "preaching" good or bad? And, should we care if we are listening to bad preaching? Should we put forth the effort to make sure we are listening to good preaching?

In one sense, good or bad preaching it depends on who you ask? Some people like hard yelling, hell-fire and brimstone, Bible preaching! Some people like a bit more laid back approach. Some like to hear a sermon full of stories and anecdotes. And still some like to hear the nitty gritty of every single Bible text, word, and letter.

  • Sermons come in all different shapes and sizes. Some last 15 minutes, and some last well over an hour. Some are more heavily focused on the listener, and some are more focused on getting the message of the text correct. Still others seek to blend together the text and the listener.

But, before we get to the question of. “What is good preaching?,” it would be most helpful to start by answering the question, “What is preaching?

-Defining the Task

Here are some helpful definitions of what exactly preaching is…

  • Tim Keller writes,“[Good preaching] is proclaiming...the testimony of God (1 Corinthians 2:1)—preaching biblically, engaging with the authoritative text. This means preaching the Word and not your own opinion. When we preach the Scriptures we are speaking the ‘very words of God’ (1 Peter 4:11). You need to make clear the meaning of the text in its context—both in its historical time and within the whole of Scripture. This task of serving the Word is [called] exposition, which is to draw out the message of the passage with faithfulness and insight and with a view to the rest of biblical teaching, so as not to “expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.’ [Good preaching] is also proclaiming to [all peoples] (1 Corinthians 1:24)—preaching compellingly, engaging the culture, and touching hearts.”

  • Haddon Robinson writes, “Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, literary study of a passage in its [own] context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, and then through him to his hearers.”

  • Tony Merida states, “faithful preaching is the responsible, passionate, and authentic declaration of the Christ exalting Scriptures, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of the Triune God.”

  • John MacArthur defines good preaching as minimally including these elements, “1) The message finds its sole source in Scripture; 2) The message is extracted from Scripture through careful exegesis; 3) The message preparation correctly interprets Scripture in its normal sense and it's [own] context; 4) The message clearly explains the original God-intended meaning of Scripture; and 5) The message applies the Scriptural meaning for today.”

One of the most influential voices of the twentieth century, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, wrote this, “Any true definition of preaching must say that the [preacher] is there to deliver the message of God, a message from God to [the people before him]...he is ambassador for Christ. That is what he is. He has been sent, he is a commissioned person, and he is standing there as the mouthpiece of God and of Christ to address the people.

  • He goes on, “...[the preacher] is there to do something to those people; he is there to produce results of various kinds, he is there to influence people [for God]...He is [not there to deal with part of the person], he is there to deal with the whole person.; and his preaching is meant to affect the whole person at the very center of life. Preaching should make such a difference to a man who is listening that he is never the same again.”

I would offer my own summation saying: Preaching is the humble, faithful proclamation, explanation, and application of the Word of God; first in its original context (what did the original mean), and second, applied faithfully to those hearing in the present day.

-Why Talk about Preaching?

-Preaching is where the Church gets her primary diet of food. In a previous post, we looked at how church Elders are to oversee the church of the Lord Jesus through teaching and instructing her from the Word of God (this action is where we get our word, “pastoring”). So preaching is a BIG DEAL. Preaching is where the Lord feeds His Church as qualified men ascend the pulpit, open the Word of God, explain it under the authority of God, and apply it to the lives of the people.

Good preaching guides the people of God in hearing, understanding, applying, and obeying the Word of God.

Listen to how the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, one of the Overseers of the Ephesians Church, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:14-16)

  • This is the primary task of get and keep the pure Word of God before the people of God.

-The Modern Challenge.

Steve Lawson writes, “As the Church advances into the twenty-first century, the stress to produce booming ministries has never been greater. Influenced by corporate mergers, towering skyscrapers, and expanding economies, bigger is perceived as better, and nowhere is this “Wall Street” mentality more evident than in the Church. Sad to say, pressure to produce bottom-line results has led many ministries to sacrifice the centrality of biblical preaching on the altar of man-centered pragmatism...A new way of doing church is emerging. In this radical shift, [biblical preaching] is being replaced with entertainment and performances, doctrine {is replaced] with drama, and theology [is replaced] with theatrics.”

  • There is a famine of good, healthy, Bible-centered preaching. Churches and pastors are giving up their commitment to faithful Bible teaching because other means are proving more effective for getting the crowds in the buildings. Crowds means a visual measure of success; crowds mean bigger budgets, bigger buildings, bigger staffs, and bigger programs. But in the wake of it all, faithful preaching has been left in the ditch.

In his book, He Is Not Silent, R. Albert Mohler offers several thoughts on why modern preaching has become so dangerously weak.

  • 1 - Contemporary preaching suffers from a loss of confidence in the power of the Word.

  • 2 - Contemporary preaching suffers from an infatuation with technology.

  • 3 - Contemporary preaching suffers from embarrassment before the Biblical text.

  • 4 - Contemporary preaching suffers from an emptying of biblical content.

  • 5 - Contemporary preaching suffers from a focus on felt needs.

  • 6 - Contemporary preaching suffers from an absence of the gospel.

All of these indictments sadly ring true. Modern preaching, in many ways, has given up a humble submission to the authority of the Bible. And in its place, much modern preaching has bowed the knee to the self. This ought not surprise us, for the Apostle Paul said this would happen…

  • For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

For some, as Mohler points out, they depart from true preaching because they are just embarrassed by the Bible. In our modern culture, there is a growing sense of humanity’s own exceptionalism. “We have moved past the need for God, the need for the Bible, and a need to believe in a kind of deity.” This began as early as the late 1800’s with German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche’s exclaiming, “God is dead, and we have killed him.”

  • Nietzsche’s point was to say, “we no longer need this idea of God.” And while many today do not outright say, “We have killed God,” many do speak and act as if God has no relevant meaning. And what’s even more concerning, a growing number of modern preachers speak and act as if it's true. Sermons today tend to be filled more with calls to be true to oneself, health, wealth and prosperity, how to achieve your dreams, or consumed with political vitriol.

For others, their departure from Biblical preaching has come because they’ve found a message that resonates more with the masses while also padding their pockets. Overflowing crowds and massive budgets can be like a drug to pastors and churches.

-An Ancient Problem.

In reality, this modern failure to peach and lead the people of God is nothing new. In the Old Testament, Israel had a serious problem of unfaithful religious leaders who served themselves more than they served God. They led the people astray through poor teaching and sinful living. Listen to how the prophet Jeremiah criticizes the spiritual shepherds of his day…

  • “For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.” (Jer. 10:21)

-Here, the Lord speaks to these foolish, selfish shepherds. They destroy and scatter the sheep of the Lord through their false teachings. They do not care for the people. The Lord will ultimately deal with them,,,

  • Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD.” (Jer. 23:1-2)

-Jeremiah the Prophet responds, lamenting that these bad shepherds have misled and mistreated the people of God. Not only are they teaching ungodly things, they live ungodly lives.

  • As for the prophets: my heart is broken within me, all my bones tremble; I have become like a drunken man, even like a man overcome with wine, because of the LORD and because of His holy words. For the land is full of adulterers; for the land mourns because of the curse. The pastures of the wilderness have dried up. Their course also is evil and their might is not right. “For both prophet and priest are polluted; even in My house I have found their wickedness,” declares the LORD. “Therefore their way will be like slippery paths to them, they will be driven away into the gloom and fall down in it; for I will bring calamity upon them, the year of their punishment,” declares the LORD. “Moreover, among the prophets of Samaria I saw an offensive thing: They prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray. Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: the committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; and they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one has turned back from his wickedness. All of them have become to Me like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah.” Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets, “Behold, I am going to feed them wormwood and make them drink poisonous water, for from the prophets of Jerusalem pollution has gone forth into all the land.'” (Jer 23:9-15).

-Where to From Here?

For one thing, we must recognize that not all preaching is good preaching. Not all preaching is faithful preaching. Not all preaching is worth listening to. Some "preaching," like with the stupid shepherds of Israel, actually leads people away from God while conniving them of the opposite.

Not all "preaching" is preaching.

All of this should help us to see how incredibly important it is for our own spiritual health, the health of our families, and the health of our churches to ensure that we are sitting under good, faithful, biblical preaching.

But, how can we know the difference between good preaching and bad preaching?

Stay tuned...


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