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The Basics Conference (III)

After last night’s session Julian and I met up with the Dunn family who graciously offered to put us up over this conference. I have grown weary of hotels and it was great to be able to stay at a real house. So we made our way over there and I lasted just a few minutes before I had to head off to bed. The first day of a conference is always a tough one for me!

Today began with Derek Thomas discussing “Preaching as Calling.” By calling he did not refer simply to the question of do I have a call to the ministry, but whether there is that inward burden imposed by the Spirit that compels me to pursue full-time gospel work, corroborated and visibly demonstrated by the church and set apart for this ministry. He went a little wider to ask “What is the calling of a preacher?” The calling to be a preacher is the calling to be an expositor and a pastor to the Lord’s people. It is a calling that has a shape, a dynamic and certain contours. The discussion was framed around a handout he provided that had on it a section from “Of the Preaching of the Word” taken from the Westminster Directory of Public Worship. He feels this is a superior look at the topic and discussed it at length. This document discusses the qualifications for biblical preaching, the specific marks or form of biblical preaching, the method that should characterize biblical preaching and the style that will be characteristic of biblical preaching.

What is essential to a calling to the ministry? A preacher is a workman who needs not be ashamed. The call to ministry is a call to labor and a call to hard work. It is a call to labor in the Word and in ideas. It is hard work and ought to be a toil. There must also be some gifting in some measure. A call to preach requires certain gifts and the document spells out some of these. There must be “ancillary knowledge,” some of which are laid out in this document. More than anything, the document spells out the need to have a love for and a knowledge of good theology. Here he inserted an exhortation to read more and to read better. He encouraged pastors to have a strategy in their reading and in the way they gain knowledge of theology. Pastors must love the Bible and a knowledge of it. There is also what the Divines called “spiritual knowledge.” A pastor must be advanced in this kind of knowledge because a pastor can’t be just an ordinary Christian. As a pastor and as a shepherd you must be constantly growing spiritually, having insight into the hearts and souls of men and women. There is a balance of intellectual and spiritual equipment. The mark of preaching and of ministry is directly related to and proportional to the intensity of our communion and union with Jesus Christ. Am I walking with Him? Am I growing with Him?

The document goes on to speak of the manner and form of biblical preaching. Here it gets very specific. They did not lay down strict rules for expository preaching but recognized different forms of it. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, long, drawn out, verse-by-verse, multi-year expository sermons are not a biblical necessity. This document urges sensitivity to a particular congregation, telling the pastor to preach to the needs of his congregation. There are three principles operative here. The first is the bent of preachers inclination. His thinking and praying about a congregation will be molded and fashioned by the relationship between pastor and people. The second is the balance of Scripture. Are you preaching from both Testaments? Are you preaching from all of the literary genres? Third, the preacher needs to know the needs of the people of God. This document tells us that the most fruitful preachers are not those who are balanced, but those who are burdened. They have a burden for the people of God and who desire to see the Word get home to the people. It also gives a warning that preachers are not to be clones of each other. Personality serves as the conduit for the preaching and is an integral part of it.

The document deals with the form of exposition. It speaks of the parts of a sermon, from introduction to conclusion. A sermon needs to have form. A lot of Christians tend to read their Bibles the way you as preachers preach it. Many young Christians develop habits of reading their Bibles and asking certain questions of the text because of the way they hear pastors preaching it. This is why the form of a sermon needs to be clear, not just in content but in form. All sermons need to have form, but not all sermons need to have the same form. This is an area where pastors may be weak since they may not change the form of the sermon as they move from passage-to-passage and genre-to-genre. Eventually it may all sound like Paul wrote it. This document underlines the unity of structure that ought to prevail.

What is the method of biblical preaching? All fruitful preaching combines both light and heat (and I think time was running short here so I did not get much else out of this point!).

What is the preacher’s calling? It is one thing to understand a text and to have exegete a text or to be able to construct a sermon. It can become quite easy to contstruct a sermon but the difficult part is the “so what?” It is difficult to explain how the text is meant to impact the heart and life of the hearer. The people who wrote this document suggest that each sermon should have an application to the mind, the heart and the will. Every passage may have a thousand ways of being applied and the preacher needs to know his people so he can properly apply it and apply it to the right type of person.

The document closes with seven remarks about the style of preaching. These seven can be summarized along three lines of thought. First, the call to be a preacher is a call to seriousness or gravitas. The opposite of this is not dour, but frivolity. This is a serious business and a serious call. Second, the preacher must be humble. The preacher must speak plainly so that everyone may understand. It is not difficult to make things difficult sound difficult, but to make the difficult simple. Third, the pastor must be loving. The pastors has to give the sense that he loves them and they will then be more willing to listen and to believe to what the pastor says.

I suspect you would gain more from this rather excellent presentation by getting a copy of the document and listening to the audio!