What is preaching all about? There are actually two things that a preacher is trying to do – and good preaching will always have these two components.
Firstly, a preacher is explaining what the passage is saying. This is probably the most obvious thing, and most preachers know ths should be aiming to do this well.
In doing this, a preacher wants to model to his congregation how to read the Bible. They will be doing their own quiet times, and may be exposed to Bible teaching from other sources (eg. books lent by their friends; websites; Christian shows on TV; personal devotion booklets). How will they know how to read the Bible for themselves? How will they identify good from bad Bible teaching?
As the preacher shows how the passage builds towards the main point, how certain things are emphasised, how repetition and word plays function in the passage and places the passage in its biblical-theological setting, not only are they showing that this really is what the passage is all about, but it models good gramatico-historical exegesis for the congregation, even if they haven’t learnt it explicitly at KYLC or AFES NTE.
But there is a second part to preaching – a preacher is also challenging people to respond to the passage. Because we know that God’s word isn’t just interesting information – it actually requires us to respond in repentance and faith! And so the preacher also wants to show the implications of this passage for our life and ministry.
But notice, the job here is to challenge people to respond. And it’s this part of preaching that’s most neglected. A lot of people who are just starting off as preachers will state the application - but there’s actally more to it that that plainly stating the application. Our job is actually to persuade people about it.
And this is exactly what is reflected in the ministry of the apostles. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says, "Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men." In Acts 18, we are told that every Sabbath Paul was in the synagogue, reasoning with them and "trying to persuade Jews and Greeks."
Listen to good preachers and you’ll notice this – the last page and a half of their sermon is not introducing any new material at all! Instead what they are doing is exhorting
people to respond – perhaps by using stories, or talking about their own personal experience, or dealing with the road-blocks that people will face – but however they go about doing it, they are seeking to "persuade men."
A sermon has things in common with a theological lecture, an exegetical paper, and a commentary – they will not be slipshod in how they deal with the passage. They will all highlight how the passage works, and bring out the main point of the passage. But what sets apart theological lectures, exegetical papers and commentaries from true preaching is that preaching also urges
people to respond!
[ PS: more on preaching soon... ]