Preaching during the Lockdown
(The following was written for a discussion among Ministers on preaching during the Coronavirus lockdown of 2020. It was posted here: https://www.golau.org/post/preaching-during-the-lockdown-problems-or-possibilities together with the contributions of others).
I regard preaching as delivering a message that comes from God, through his Word, to the people who are listening. This contains a number of vital elements that make preaching truly preaching:
1. A Message from God
Preaching is more than explaining a passage of Scripture. The preacher needs to have a message from God for the people, that he was given in his preparation, and that means preaching must include relevant application.
2. Through his Word
A preacher is not to give his own opinions, but is to bring things “new and old” out of God’s word, the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.”
3. To the People who are Listening
We have to preach to the people we have, not the people we wish we had!
There are four aspects of preaching that I would like to mention:
We are passing on a message we have been given, and as such it needs to be proclaimed without fear or favour.
The truth of God’s word can be like a fire that burns in our bones, and we just want to proclaim it to whoever will listen.
We see this with the Old Testament prophets:
- Jer. 20:9 Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not.
and with the apostles:
- Acts 4:20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
Should this not be true of us also?
Good preaching honours God and is faithful to his Word.
B. Tailoring the Message to the Hearers
Our preaching must be adapted to what our people need to hear and what they are able to take in.
Some need to hear comfort or encouragement and some need to hear challenge or rebuke.
Some are able to take big portions, and some are only able to take smaller portions. Some need meat, and some need milk:
- 1 Cor. 3:2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;
After all, meat only does us good if we are able to digest it, and an infant is better off on milk. Even for our mature hearers, the truth only does them good if they are able to process it, that is, understand it, work out its implications, and be changed by it. While we can make profound truths easier to understand by dressing them up in simple words and pictures, they still have to be digested, and this takes time. We should not expect too much, too soon.
This means we need to know our hearers and tailor our preaching accordingly.
Good preaching is preaching that does good.
There is a dynamic in preaching. We are affected by the congregation, and the congregation is affected by us:
Not only are we affected by who is present and what we know about them as individuals, but there is a more general “feel” to a meeting where we are influenced by the congregation.
We find that some congregations are easier to preach to than others, and the reasons are not always readily apparent.
In response to a congregation, we tailor our words and our illustrations, and sometimes find that we are led by the Lord to say or not say certain things “in the moment”.
Good preaching responds to the condition of the hearers.
D. God’s Presence and Blessing
In addition to the above, there can be a nearness of the Lord, producing a stillness in the congregation, and a sense that we are being led along as we preach. It can seems as if someone else is preaching and we are merely observing what God is doing. Then we find that people are clearly dealt with, and their faith rests in the power of God.
Good preaching is totally dependent on God for blessing.
In our present situation, many of us are preaching to cameras, recording our sermons or live streaming them. The difference between this and what we have been used to is that our hearers are not physically present with us.
1. This is a Real Difference
We notice that in the New Testament, the apostles long to be present with churches, rather than just write them letters. There is a recognition that something dynamic and two-way happens when we are together:
- 2 John 12 Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.
- Rom. 1:11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established— Rom. 1:12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
Writing their letters from a distance was of great value, but it wasn’t the same as being there, face to face, either for the apostles or for their hearers.
2. There are Parallels with Prayer and Praise
There is a difference between personal prayer, corporate prayer and leading in prayer in a meeting. There are some things we would pray about in private that we would not mention in public prayer. In corporate prayer, we are often aware of being helped by those who are praying with us.
Similarly, there is a difference between private and corporate praise.
There can be great spontaneity in praise:
- Luke 19:40 But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”
We see this in the spontaneous outbursts of praise that sprinkle Paul’s letters:
- e.g. 2 Cor. 9:15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
But in public worship we also need to consider the kinds of songs that are appropriate to the message preached, and the spiritual maturity of the congregation.
Also, there is the effect of the praise of God’s people on one another when they are together:
- Col. 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
In the light of all this, I would argue that there is are certain differences between prayer, praise and preaching when a congregation is present and when we only have the camera.
As regards preaching:
1. Proclamation is the same. It is to honour God and be faithful to his Word.
2. Tailoring the message to the hearers is harder, especially if we do not know who is listening.
3. Direct interaction is absent, although the Spirit of God can help us here.
4. God’s presence and blessing can overcome all obstacles, and we must be thankful for that in these strange times.
SO now, as much as ever, we have need to pray that the Lord would bless his word:
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.