This past week a friend reminded me of the Hampton Ministers Conference, which is widely considered to be one of the best on preaching. It features some of the greatest preachers in the United States.In all the years I have been intending to go, I have not had the chance to attend yet.
When I went to seminary in the late seventies, we were told that we may be the last generation of preachers.Preaching as it was known foralmost two thousand years could disappear. One of the books that we read was entitledDon’t Call Me Preacher.Yet apostle Paul spends almost a whole chapter discussing preaching and philosophy. He sees himself as one who has been called to preach the message of the cross, even though someregarded it as weakness andsome regarded it as foolishness.
The practice of preaching varies from church to church. In the Roman Catholic Church, where the worship emphasis is on the Eucharist, preaching is very short. I remember being in a Good Friday worship service from 12:00 noon to 3:00 where we preached on the Last Seven Words of Jesus.Each preacher had 25 minutes. The Catholic brother did his sermon in less than 8 minutes. He turned to me and said, “What is going to happened in the remaining 17 minutes?” I whispered to him, “Turn to the brother next to you who is a Baptist and tell him that you givehim your 17 minutes. Baptist preachers are used to preaching 45 to 60 minutes and he will thank you for the additional time.”
There are many varieties in preaching. There is evangelistic preaching, there is prophetical preaching, there is occasional preaching, there is didactic or teaching preaching, and there is commercial preaching. Some people choose their church by the preaching style of the local pastor.
The simplest form of preaching is evangelistic preaching. This type of preaching can be compassionate or alarmist. It is compassionate because the preacher wants to deliver a message of God’s infinite love so that sinners will be saved. It can be alarmist because the preacher describes the horror of hell for those people who are not listening to the message of God.
Prophetical preaching is comprised of messages preaching against something.They can be againstindividuals, churches, local communities, or the government. Like the prophets of old, those who are prophetical preachers have a message against the immorality, injustice, or ungodliness of the society in which they live. They are very passionate in their preaching and they are not there to create friends, but to change the thinking and especially the practices of the people.
Then there are the occasional sermons, which arebased on culture or the church calendar. During the first three centuries in the United States, pastors would preach through the Bible and pay no attention to special holidays. Now we have occasional sermons for Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Thanksgiving.We preach cultural sermons such as Mother’s and Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day.
Most preachers preach didactic or teaching sermons. They view the sermon as a time to present the Word of God in a teachable fashion – a teaching moment or a teaching hour. This style has its own varieties – biographical (the lives of the Bible saints), doctrinal (the Trinity, atonement), or behavioral (godly living, justice).
Some preachers follow a lectionary, while others choose their own texts. Some preach exegetical sermons and explain the text with application added at the end, while some preach topical sermonsand look for passages that address that topic.
Preachinggoes in and out of style. Many years ago, I did a studyby observing non-church literature such as newspapers, radio and TV that use the word preach/preacher.I did not find a single positive use. The concept of preaching in our Western culture is completely negative. However, I am fully convinced that there will be preaching and preachers until the Lord Jesus Christ comes. Matthew presents Jesus at the beginning of his ministry with these words, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 5:23). Apostle Paul writes about the fact that God has called him to preach the unsearchableriches of God and that he has made his life calling to preach where Christ was not preached before (Romans 15:20)so that the whole world will hear the gospel. In this gospel resides the power of God to save everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16)