Recently I read something that gave me pause for thought. The book was old, actually printed in 1877 – with a taped spine and crumbly-yellowed pages, and I wondered as I turned to the first chapter of Phillips Brooks’ Lectures on Preaching how different it might be from a more modern classic like Lloyd Jones’ Preaching & Preachers. This is what I read:
“Every now and then we hear some speculations about the prospects of preaching. Will men continue to preach and will other men continue to go and hear them? Books are multiplying enormously. Any man may feel reasonably sure on any Sunday morning that in a book which he can choose from his shelf he can read something more wisely thought and more perfectly expressed than he will hear from the pulpit if he goes to church. Why should he go?”
Why indeed! The reasons not to go to church might be seen to mount up in terms of both media and medium! Not only have we added any number of pulpit giants to the menu over the past 138 years (men like Lloyd Jones, Barnhouse, Stanley, Piper, Macarthur, and Keller), but today we have streaming video feeds on the internet and televised services – podcasts and mp3’s! You can read, watch, or listen to any of these “one in a million” preachers you choose on any Sunday morning – so why come listen to your “one of a million?”
One short answer could be: “Because of the Protestant Reformation.” Typically we think of the Reformation as a time in which the church grew in its understanding of beautiful, biblical doctrines that we summarize with phrases like “grace alone,” or, “to God alone be glory.” But the Reformation was more than that. Among other things, it was a reformation of preaching. Preaching would no longer be the anonymous travelling Dominican passing through town and delivering a stock, usually moralistic sermon calling strangers from vice to virtue. And Bishops would no longer be remote, privileged strangers who might see their flocks once a year. Instead, Pastors would preach to their congregations, and congregations would know their preachers.
This Sunday you have an opportunity that many Christians have not been privileged to enjoy. You can get in your car, go to your local church, and hear a pastor preach to you. He might be a stranger the first time, but keep going Sunday after Sunday. You will find yourself hearing God’s Word read and preached by a man who, like the Apostle Paul, has let you “know all about his teaching and his life!”(2 Timothy 3:10). And what is more, he will know about your life. His messages will not be mere expositions of scriptural texts that may or may not have any bearing on your current experience. Rather, they will be specifically written and delivered for the particular benefit of the church that is gathered before him – of which you are a part.
Your preacher may not be a Keller or Piper. Few preachers are. Most of us minister ‘in the wings’ as it were. We do not have international followings and none of our sermons are published. But your preacher has two things no world-class preacher has. He knows you. And he loves you. May we be blessed with the personal, pastoral preaching that can only come from the pastor down the street who carries you in his heart as he prepares the messages God gives him.
PS Keep listening to great preaching on the radio and internet!