D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has written a very useful book on preaching, called Preaching and Preachers. If I could summarize the central theme of this book, it is that the preacher is called to communicate the truth of the Scripture to the people of God, so that they will be influenced and moved by that truth. This is the guiding principle of Lloyd-Jones’ approach to preaching, and he uses this principle to judge all other matters.
Lloyd-Jones says that preaching in his own day is in a terrible state, due to an overreaction to the overly formal style that came before, and to an overconfidence in science and psychology to solve all problems. The result was a feel-good preaching style that made heavy use of psychological principles to the detriment of applying the word. Ironically, in giving people what the preacher feels the people want, instead of what the Bible says they need, the churches were dwindling. If the preaching is irrelevant, why should people come? Lloyd-Jones insists that if preachers are going to be effective and the churches to be vital again, preachers are going to have to get back to preaching the word.
Lloyd-Jones’ book is a broad book, covering many topics. He started by establishing what he calls “the primacy of preaching”, which is just the idea that preaching must be at the center of everything we do in church. The worship service, the architecture of the building, the preparation of the minister- everything should reflect this. It is preaching which changes people, so preaching must be central.
Lloyd-Jones has many specific examples of things which detract from this primacy, most of which I agree with and some of which I do not. He says that taping sermons or responsive readings are detractions, the one because it destroys the freedom of the preacher and the interaction between preacher and congregation, and the other because it is based on the idea that the congregation ought to be more involved in the service. These are two examples of what I think are not necessary applications of the absolutely correct principle which Lloyd-Jones is advocating here. Yes, preaching must be primary, but tape recording doesn’t necessarily interfere with that. And responsive readings and music can be used to amplify the effect of the preaching, not hinder from it. And just because something is primary, doesn’t mean that nothing else is necessary. Confession, singing and public prayer are all commanded in Scripture, and therefore ought to be given due attention. But these two matters are relatively minor matters of opinion, compared to the many points on which Lloyd-Jones is perceptive and absolutely correct. In many ways, the church in his day through ours undermines and discounts the importance of preaching in favor of many other elements of worship (or non-worship). Even in the sermon itself, many things happen which are not preaching. Joke-telling, story-telling, flowery rhetoric, pithy quotations, psychologizing, talking about the issues of the day, all crowd out true preaching.
True preaching, on the other hand, is confronting and encouraging the people of God with the truth of Scripture. It is only the truth of Scripture that will change people’s lives, and it is life change that we are looking for.
Lloyd-Jones also discusses at length the character of a pastor and what ought to be considered in a man before recognizing the call. This I think was the most perceptive part of the book, and also the most badly needed today. Little attention, even in many conservative circles, is given to the character of the man. Perhaps attention is given to the man’s scholarly abilities and theological acumen, but such a simple matter of whether the man is capable of speaking in public is frequently neglected.
Lloyd-Jones says that whenever a young man approaches him and expresses an interest in the ministry, he feels it is his obligation to put as many roadblocks as he can in the man’s way. He says if the man is called, then he will overcome these. But too many men are pursuing ministry for the wrong reasons, far more than don’t pursue the ministry although they are called. Men pursue it for vanity, for pride, out of guilt, or to run away from other failures. But Lloyd-Jones repeats Spurgeon’s admonition, that if a man can do anything else, he should. Anyone who is truly called will be unsatisfied doing any other work. Therefore, it will be the case that far more men ought to be discouraged from false feelings of ministry calling than will need to be encouraged to pursue a call that they are running away from.
But men do run away from calls too, and the church needs to be looking for that. The call is both outward and inward, so the church needs to confirm the true calls by identifying those who have gifts and encouraging it. Nobody ought to proceed in the absence of an inward call, but the church can confirm an inward call that is not recognized yet.
There is a great deal of helpful advice in this book regarding such matters as sermon outlines, preparation and delivery. Some of this kind of advice is not rooted deeply in principles, but is just based on what Lloyd-Jones has done himself and what he has seen work and fail to work in other men. It is very helpful for young pastors to hear suggestions and advice for how to steer away from some of the common icebergs in the ministry. All in all, Lloyd-Jones has produced an excellent and thorough book that should be of assistance to both students and experienced men.