A number of problems exist with the preaching in our assemblies. These problems include:
- the teaching never gets beyond milk
- the exhortation is not direct enough
- the evangelism is not clear enough
- ungifted brothers preach regularly
- only sporadic attempts are made to develop gift and disciple
- brothers who are not preparing are asked time and time again to preach
Sometimes, through conceit, we think the preaching in our assemblies is better than denominational churches. Whether this is true or not, the problems still exist and we need to address them.
The Unscriptural Solution
Many people recognize the problems. Some people vote with their feet and some people just complain. This paper is intended to help the situation, not make it worse! Some people push for an unscriptural solution by suggesting we hire a Pastor. This “solution” does not address the long term problems, and may not even provide a short term solution (because the man might not provide better ministry than what we are already receiving in the assembly).
Who Should Preach?
Gifted brothers should preach. We must not ask ungifted brothers to preach. Just because a brother has been preaching in the assembly in the past does not mean he is gifted. It will call for courage among the Elders to only ask gifted brothers to preach.
Of course, if we don’t know whether a brother is gifted or not, a place must be opened for him until such time as the Elders determine whether his is gifted or not. If a man is not gifted to preach (teach, exhort or evangelize), the Elders must explain their convictions that he is not gifted, and help him to find what his gift is.
Of course, the Lord may give an ungifted brother a thought to share with the believers. At times like this, the occasional open meeting can be helpful.
Younger brothers who show evidence of gift must be taken under the care of the older brothers and given opportunity to develop gift. However, this is not happening to the extent it should. While young men might be given opportunities to preach, nobody is helping them develop their gift. There are a number of ways we can help develop the gift of younger brothers:
- take a young man under the wing. Meet with him and give him assignments
- help him develop his first messages
- listen to him in a “dry run” before he takes the pulpit
- teach the young men about preaching
- buy them a copy of Mr. Gibb’s text and go through it with them
- provide frank feedback on what they did well and what they did poorly
- you might even want to consider videotaping a sermon and showing the young man what he was doing right and wrong
- run a regularly scheduled class to develop gift (note that the Holy Spirit is the giver of the gifts. Classes cannot instill gift, but might be able to help develop existing gift)
How Should we Prepare?
Preaching is not a mechanical activity, but a moving of the Holy Spirit. We look for the Spirit’s leading during the delivery of a sermon, and we should look for the Spirit’s leading during the preparation of a sermon. Regrettably, many brothers seem to give their sermons minimal preparation time. Preaching is a 3 step process. We study the Scriptures, we prepare a sermon and then we preach the sermon. Many brothers seem to be taking the easy way out:
- they don’t seem to be studying for themselves
- they are not consulting multiple translations
- they don’t consult multiple commentaries
- they don’t even consult a single commentary
- they read the passage, think about what it is saying to them, what they can say, and maybe how they can apply this to the believers
- they are trying to apply the Scriptures before they have determined what the Bible is actually saying
- they have not thought out what they are going to say and how they are going to say it
- their sermon is a collection of little tidbits that they have remembered from other men’s sermons over the years
How are Topics Assigned?
Sometimes the Elders will leave topic selection to the individual brother and sometimes they will feel that a particular topic (or passage) needs to be addressed. Sometimes, care is not taken in selecting the right brother or dividing up the passage in a proper manner. Using the example of a 6 week series where 6 brothers are each assigned a chapter, the following often happens:
- week 1 – the brother gives an overview to the book but does not have time to discuss the entire chapter
- week 2 – the chapter has a very thorny theological issue. The brother spends most of his time on a couple of verses, ignoring the rest. However, the brother who is preaching does not have a good grasp on theological issues and makes several errors in his discussion of the issue
- week 3 – the brother gives a careful verse-by-verse exposition of the whole chapter. However, he does not provide the bigger view and does not apply the text to the believers, resulting in an audience that feels the sermon was “dry and intellectual”
- week 4 – the brother discusses the broader picture of his chapter, but doesn’t go into much detail and doesn’t go very deep. Older believers are left feeling that they didn’t get much from the message
- week 5 – the brother spends most of his time discussing a verse in his chapter that is suitable for an evangelistic message. He does this because it is Sunday morning and a “Gospel message” is expected of him. Regrettably he is not gifted as an evangelist and regrettably he ignores the rest of the chapter
- week 6 – the brother discusses the last chapter but doesn’t leave sufficient time for a summary of the whole book
I believe it would be better for the elders to divide the book up into passages rather than just following the chapter divisions. If a passage has thorny theological issues, a smaller amount of text should be assigned, and the brother who preaches on this passage should be one who is equipped to handle theological matters. If a passage has a “gospel verse” and we want to have a “gospel message, we should invite an evangelist to preach on this passage. A week for introduction and a week for summary should be assigned. The elders should decide on a consistent style of ministry for the series, either verse-by-verse or broader themes.
The elders should also make it clear to a brother that they expect him to use his gift and not someone else’s. If a man is gifted for gospel ministry, he should deliver gospel ministry Sunday morning and Sunday evening. He should not attempt to teach on Sunday night. If a man is gifted for a teaching ministry, he should deliver teaching ministry Sunday morning and Sunday evening. He should not attempt to preach a gospel message on Sunday morning.
As we preach the Gospel, we should be aware that we are in a Biblically illiterate society. Gospel ministry should be clear. I fear that our gospel ministry is only clear to those who are already saved. Subtle use of typology, quotations from Scripture without letting the audience know the quote is from Scripture and references to broad themes will not reach today’s audience. We should not water down the message, but we must modify how we present the Gospel.
Ministry of Exhortation
Some brothers are gifted for exhortation, but ministry of exhortation is rare. We are afraid of offending the believers in the assembly. When was the last time the elders in your assembly asked a brother to address a particular problem with a message of exhortation? It will require great courage for the elders to include ministry of exhortation along with teaching and evangelistic ministry.
- we think that our ministry is deep, but much of it is just obscure
- the obscure and material that is questionable as to its veracity is presented as being the deep things of the word
- when it is deep, people are not given the chance to see the broader picture; how this fits into the whole of God’s great plans
- we have ministry that is deeply devotional, instead of deep
- we are not teaching the basic doctrines of the Word, let alone the deep doctrines!
- when we teach doctrine, we fail to make it applicable to people so doctrine gets a bad reputation
- when we teach doctrine, we fail to start at the beginning, and so we lose people
Suggestions in Summary
- make use of gifted brothers and let them use their gift
- assign passages not chapters
- perhaps a month of Saturday lessons on preaching, with someone who is obviously gifted. Run this “class” every 2 years and require the younger brothers and the older brothers to attend
- perhaps the assembly should buy a copy of Mr. Gibbs’ text for each of the men of the assembly, young and old, and get them to read it. Note that while this might be helpful, solutions to problems that involve simply spending money are not really solutions at all unless they are accompanied by hands on activities
- pray about the ministry in the assembly
- pray for individual brothers who are preaching
- help them to study and prepare to preach
- tell the young men who are just starting to preach that they will be getting helpful suggestions from the Elders. Without this feedback, these same men will still be making beginners errors 40 years from now.
- speak frankly to the ungifted, or to those who are making classic errors in their presentation
A Special Word to Elders
The points mentioned in this paper will require the Elders to have courage if they are to be implemented. It will especially require courage (and tact) to tell a brother that he is not gifted in a public speaking capability.