Scripture has a prominent place in Christian worship,
just as it did in the Jewish Synagogue on the Sabbath. It was in this
setting that Matthew's Gospel recounts a reading in Nazareth's synagogue by
the local, rising young prophet, Jesus. Remarkably, it was on this occasion
that He revealed His Messianic identity, that He was the fulfillment of the
prophesy of Isaiah 61:1, from which He read. "The Spirit of the LORD is upon
Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent
Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and
recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to preach the acceptable year of the LORD" (Luke 4:18-19).
Preaching was considered a primary thrust of Christ's
mission on earth — a task that He passed on to the church to continue. He
commissioned His followers to evangelize the world with Gospel preaching
(Mark 16:15), and later when the church came together on Sundays, the course
of worship would also include ample preaching or teaching, sometimes of a
lengthy nature. "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came
together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them
and continued his message until midnight" (Acts 20:7). (Now doesn't this
make you feel better about the length of your pastor's sermons?)
Preaching is always intended to bring about some
desired result. To the unsaved, hopefully the preaching will inspire a
decision for Christ. For the believers, the objective is to edify them
spiritually. Dr. Jay Adams, a widely respected professor of homiletics, says
"the purpose of preaching is to effect changes among the members of God's
church that build them up individually and that build up the body as a
whole. Individually, good pastoral preaching helps each person in the
congregation to grow in his faith, conforming his life more and more to
biblical standards. Corporately, such preaching builds up the church as a
body in the relationship of the parts to the whole, and the whole to God and
to the world."¹
Customarily, preachers will organize their message
into the form of a sermon, which is "a speech with an organized collection
of thoughts." It is usually constructed around an outline of key points,
combined with an array of scripture references, metaphors, or illustrative
stories to help convey the point. A sermon may also be referred to as a
"homily," derived from the Greek HOMILIA, a mutual talk or set discourse.
There are a variety of sermon formats used by Bible
(1) A Textual sermon is one that limits itself to
one certain thought or topic suggested by a particular scripture text.
Many of the philosophies surrounding sermon rhetoric
(the style and structure of oratory) were handed down from John Chrysostom,
the fourth century preacher of Antioch and Bishop of Constantinople (A.D.
350-407). His preaching gift was enhanced by his childhood studies of Greek
oratory. From the 6th century, he was referred to as Chrysostom, which means
"Golden Mouth," due to the eloquent structure of his written homilies.
Hundreds of these were preserved and upheld as model sermon outlines for
generations of preachers.
Besides sermon structure, there are other great
diversities in the styles of preaching, mainly due to the different
personalities of preachers. The 19th century theologian, Phillips Brooks
said, "Preaching is the communication of truth by man to men. It has two
essential elements, truth and personality. Neither of these can it spare...
Preaching is the bringing of truth through personality."² Personality refers
to the distinctive traits of a preacher — his speaking ability, his
disposition, manners and enthusiasm — which deliver the message to the
It is generally not encouraged, but preaching styles
are frequently influenced by the styles of admired peers and well known
ministers. Billy Graham is one of the most emulated preachers in history —
primarily due to his wide exposure through broadcasting. It is not uncommon
to hear a preacher who sounds very similar. I know of several pastors who
(perhaps unconsciously) use similar phrases, mannerisms, and the same rhythm
of speech, which makes them sound very much like Graham.
One might assume that preaching is always based on
scripture, but this is not always the case. Ministers in some contemporary
churches rarely refer to scripture, if at all. Unfortunately, such sermons
become nothing more than secular speeches or lectures, contrary to the
pattern of New Testament preaching. More than anything else, people need to
hear the unadulterated proclamation of God's Word that has power to
transform their lives. The Apostle Paul's instruction to his young
understudy, Timothy, was not to make speeches or sermons — he said to
"Preach the word..." (2 Tim 4:2).
A Godly lifestyle, combined with the calling of God
are the most important qualifications for a preacher. One doesn't have to
possess a formal education to preach, any more than did the earliest
disciples, many of whom were common fishermen and tradesmen. But it's to the
preacher's advantage if he can attend a Bible college or seminary. Besides a
need for mentoring and Biblical instruction, there are two preparatory
studies especially helpful to the preparation of preaching. (1)
Hermeneutics, "the science and art of Biblical interpretation," (derived
from the Greek, HERMES, mythical herald of the gods and interpreter of
Jupiter), and (2) Homiletics, "the art and science of preaching," (from the
Greek "HOMILIA," a mutual talk or set discourse).
¹ Preaching With Purpose, Jay E. Adams