True Preaching is Indispensable! What is it?

In September 1967, D. M. Lloyd-Jones gave an address for a student conference at Westminster Theological Seminary on the topic, "What is Preaching?" The address is included in the Banner of Truth book Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions 1942-1977. I have always been struck by how timeless Lloyd-Jones’s material on preaching is. The address is the kind that I think anyone who preaches regularly would do well to read at least once or twice a year. 

Unapologetically, Lloyd-Jones asserts, “Preaching is God’s ordained method and way” (265). Negatively, Lloyd-Jones argues that reading, counseling, entertaining, lecturing, offering a running exegetical commentary of a text, and developing a sermon are not preaching. Positively, Lloyd-Jones asserts that true preaching is a transaction. He emphasizes that in preaching “something is happening between the man who is speaking and the congregation that is listening” (272-273). He affirms the essence of Phillip Brooks famous definition of preaching as, “Truth mediated through personality,” because Lloyd-Jones insists, “The whole man is involved in preaching; that is where the difference between the sermon and preaching lies” (273).

It seems to me that it is an understanding of this truth of the whole man being involved in preaching that is often lacking in evangelical preaching. The reason we so often think we can substitute reading, counseling, entertaining, lecturing, offering a running exegetical commentary of a text, and developing a sermon for preaching is because our understanding of what the preacher is doing is truncated.  Too often, we fail to reckon with the truth that every single part of the preacher is involved in delivering the message. Likewise, as Lloyd-Jones notes, “the congregation is making a contribution.” He explains, “There is a unity between preacher and hearers and there is a transaction backwards and forwards.” Lloyd-Jones concludes, “That, to me, is true preaching” (273).

Too often, in evangelical churches, preaching is envisioned as a mere intellectual transfer of helpful information from the Bible to listeners who passively receive the information and hopefully apply it in some way. According to Lloyd-Jones, a person can listen to a sermon on the television or radio (or device today), but you can only hear true preaching in the presence of the preacher and congregation. He explains, “You cannot listen to true preaching in detachment and you must never be in a position where you can turn it off” (273). The preaching moment involves a whole person commitment of the preacher and the hearers. Lloyd-Jones thunders, “You think you are ready for Sunday because you have prepared the sermon. That is not preaching” (274).

Lloyd-Jones lists as hindrances to true preaching; professionalism that lacks a sense of romance about preaching, an over-reliance on preparation as if sermon notes are preaching, and too much reliance on sermon notes while preaching. All of these are impersonal and work against the whole person transaction that is to take place between the preacher and the congregation. God uses most effectively preachers who are given over to the task of proclaiming the word of God with their whole person—holding nothing back. There is a difference between approaching preaching as a task that one does and being used of God in preaching. Effectiveness in preaching is never merely a matter of rhetorical eloquence, theological knowledge, intellectual brilliance, or creative homiletical skill.

True preaching always involves the man of God, united to the son of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, proclaiming the word of God, to the gathered people of God, with a passionate zeal for the glory of God, to spread the fame of the Christ of God.  As Lloyd-Jones explained, in the moment of true preaching, the whole congregation and the preacher are on in the hand of God (277). May we rediscover what preaching is in our evangelical churches. To do so is vastly more important than the countless other things on which we spend the bulk of our energy. In fact, true preaching must shape how we do all those other things if we are to be found faithful.

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared at Prince on Preaching and is used with permission.