by Jacob Riggs
Preaching is the pastor’s primary task, but often viewed subjectively. Two people of similar backgrounds could listen to the same sermon and be impacted in different ways. One might believe the sermon to have been excellent, and the other may have slept through it or even found it heretical. The discussion that follows seeks to define a “good” sermon and to understand why people react to preaching in such different ways.
They won’t claim this, but both of these men are some of the most qualified in the movement of Free Will Baptists to discuss this topic. I’ve asked Jeff Jones and Jeff Manning to join me for a discussion on what makes a sermon good. This interview is comprised of nine questions spread over two posts. Stay tuned for Part II.
- Gentlemen, let’s begin with your definition. What is a sermon supposed to be?
Jones: In a generic way, preaching is God’s chosen method to communicate His Word. Since communication is the functional aim of preaching, a preacher needs a sermon to guide his dialogue. A sermon should assimilate and organize your thoughts to declare it to the listener; it is the communication of God’s truth by a man to men.
I prefer an expository sermon. I like to establish in my mind one major theme from the text, draw all of my main points from that text, and then apply the message of the text to the people.
Manning: A sermon is the explanation, exhortation, illustration, and application of a text of Scripture, which is properly understood in its context and passionately proclaimed to people in their context, all with the indispensable help and power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of Christ.
- Charles Spurgeon said, “No Christ in your sermon sir, then go home and never come back until you have something worth preaching.” Is he right? Should every sermon at least point to Christ in some way? Why or why not?
Jones: I enjoy and believe in preaching through books of the Bible; I believe it benefits the church. Ninety percent of my Sunday preaching falls into series where I am accomplishing this goal. When you are following through a book a section at a time, there are going to be places that the subject of Christ is not a part of the text. For over twenty-one years of pastoring the same people, somehow I’m able to tell them how to come to know Christ each week. I want to do the job that is required of me to dissect, expound, and teach God’s whole counsel, yet I want people to know how to begin a relationship with the God that inspired the very words I am preaching.
This is really not difficult. Sometimes I simply include it in my introduction by saying, “Much of what I am addressing this morning is to the church, and this is not going to mean a lot to you if you have not submitted your life to Jesus Christ. The most important decision a man or woman can make is to place their trust in Jesus Christ to save them from their sins. It is He and He alone that can save you.” Then I progress into my text. I think what Spurgeon is warning against is that no one without Christ who comes to hear us preach should leave without having heard about Christ as Savior. I completely agree!
Manning: I agree, but with a couple of cautions. To preach an entire sermon with no mention of Christ whatsoever would border on heresy. However, that does not mean that the Christ should be “found” in every single text of Scripture. Jesus Himself explained to those two Emmaus Road travelers that He was the subject of Old Testament texts in ways no one had previously realized. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,” Jesus “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24.27). But that doesn’t mean that every rock mentioned in the Old Testament is the Rock of Ages. Preach Christ? Absolutely, but don’t resort to allegorizing and spiritualizing Biblical texts.
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones and others are known to preach doctrinal sermons. The sermon is saturated with Scripture, but is not an exposition of one particular text. Is that preaching? Why or why not?
Jones: At a conference I heard a man say, “There are two kinds of preaching: expository preaching and bad preaching.” To my flesh this was appealing, because I prefer this type of preaching approach, yet in my heart I knew better. While training young men for eighteen years in expository preaching, I have come up with another slogan: “There are two types of preaching: biblical preaching and bad preaching.”
Even those of us who prefer expository preaching will find times when we need to preach a topical sermon. When I have felt the need to address specific issues, I have used the topical approach. However, I do not think it is the best way to communicate God’s truth weekly as a pastor.
Manning: Absolutely, as long as no Scriptures are used out of context. I’m sure Lloyd-Jones was never guilty of this, but doctrinal or topical sermons present a unique temptation to proof-text passages so that they say what we want or “need” them to say. Easier said than done, but every text used in every sermon needs to be properly interpreted and not just “conveniently quoted.”
- We’ve all heard the phrase, “That’ll preach.” It is usually referring to a phrase, saying, or “nugget” of truth that seems particularly applicable or relevant to society. Is there any merit to this concept in true Biblical preaching? Is preaching necessarily relevant to everyday life, or can it still be preaching if it’s only cerebral?
Jones: Yes, we have all heard the phrase, “That’ll preach.” I don’t mind that at all if it causes you to look in the Word to be sure that is exactly what the “nugget” is genuinely saying.
As far as preaching being relevant for today, I say absolutely! John Stott, in his book Between Two Worlds, does an excellent job explaining the process. The gist of it is that our preaching should build a bridge between the ancient world when the Bible was written and the contemporary world in which we live today. The text of Scripture was written to real people facing real issues in a real world. The universal need of man has not changed. Human nature has not changed. We must preach the universal truth from the text that all men need.
Here is a great example. We tend to think that temptation is so complex for man today, yet the Bible says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.” Do you realize that in the multimedia age we live in, the devil still can only tempt you with the lust of your eyes, the lust of your flesh, or the pride of life? These are universal truths that were true in the ancient world in which the Bible was written and are just as true today. Our job is to build a bridge between the two worlds and teach these universal truths to men.
Manning: All Scripture is inspired and profitable, but it’s not all equally profitable. John 3:16 is more “profitable” than Leviticus 3:16, but they’re both equally inspired. That said, some texts contain truth “that’ll preach” easier and with more heart-appeal than others. Sadly, Romans 1:18-32 has become a text “that’ll preach” in today’s American culture like never before. But out of faithfulness to certain texts, the preaching of them has to be more cerebral because the text itself is revelatory and intended to enlighten the mind more so than to challenge the will. At the same time, to have our minds stimulated, for example, by the majesty and glory of Christ may do more to affect our behavior than a sermon on fleeing youthful lusts.
[We’ll post Part II soon.]
Jeff Jones has been Pastor of Hilltop Church in Fuquay Varina, NC since 1996. He received a Bachelor’s degree from Southeastern Free Will Baptist College in 1987 and a Master of Ministry from Bob Jones University in 2010. He is an adjunct homiletics professor at Southeastern Free Will Baptist College. Follow Pastor Jones on Twitter: @JeffBJones.
Jeff Manning has been on staff at Unity Church in Greenville, NC since 1990 and has been Senior Pastor since 1991. His Bachelor’s degree is from Welch College (1986), his Master of Divinity is from Bob Jones University (1990), and his Doctorate in Ministry is from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (2002). Follow Dr. Manning on Twitter: @JeffManning11.
Jacob Riggs has been pastoring at Central Oaks Community Church in Royal Oak, MI since 2013. He graduated from Welch College with a Bachelor’s degree in 2008 and from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity in 2015.