It took me a while to read because I read it in stages, but nonetheless today I finished Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic book on preaching. Lloyd-Jones died in 1981 but continues to influence a new generation of preachers who are looking for wise counsel on how to handle the Bible in the pulpit and speak effectively to a new generation of listeners. This book contains a series of lectures that Lloyd-Jones delivered in 1969 at Westminster Seminary toward the end of his career. He doesn’t pull any punches in this work, telling you exactly what he things about every aspect of preaching ministry in the local church. Some of his opinions are based on his strong personal preferences (as he readily admits) while others are based on a lifetime of local church ministry and biblical reflection. Here are four insights that will stay with me from Lloyd-Jones:
1- Be honest with the biblical text in preparing to preach. This resonates with me because I feel this tension every week that I preach. Am I going to force the Scripture to support the point that I want to make OR am I going to allow the main thrust of the text I’m preaching to shape the sermon I’m going to preach? Every preacher faces this fundamental decision every week – sometimes multiple times a week – will we deal honestly with the Bible? I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have thought that I knew what I was going to preach from a text only to have the main idea change after a careful study of the Scripture. I so appreciated Lloyd-Jones’ passionate defense of exegetical preaching and the importance of giving time to make sure we know what the Bible is saying before we stand in the pulpit to preach it.
2- Allow freedom for the Holy Spirit to move. Tim Keller says the difference between a bad preacher and a good preacher is hard work, but that the difference between a good preacher and a greater preacher is the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Lloyd-Jones would undoubtedly agree with this statement. He goes to great lengths to emphasize the all-important role of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of preaching. While some of his recommendations are strange, the heart behind all of them is the same: make sure you are filled with the Spirit, guided by the Spirit, and moved by the Spirit when you preach. The last chapter of the book is his discussion on “unction,” an old word that means the anointing of the Spirit. I think it is the best chapter of the whole book. Lloyd-Jones believed that there was no substitute for the power of the Spirit in the life of the preacher.
3- Know and communicate with your audience. Lloyd-Jones rightly critiques preachers who argue with commentators in the pulpit, saying that they don’t know their own audience. I think his concern is that so much that passes as preaching is addressing the wrong audience. Instead of preaching to the actual people in front of him, the pastor can preach to his peers or professors or authors he reads. Lloyd-Jones says this may make him sound educated and well-read, but it doesn’t actually help the people he is ministering to. This is one reason that pulpit ministry must be connected to the life of the congregation and the life of the community. If we are disconnected from people, we will answer questions they aren’t asking and ignore issues that weigh them down.
4- Be yourself when you preach. I’ve heard many other preachers make this point, but none as strongly or clearly as Lloyd-Jones. He says that one of the greatest errors that young preachers make is trying to sound like, act like, move like, and preach like other preachers that they admire. Throughout the book, he comes back to this theme again and again. It impacts the way we study, the material we read, the style of our preaching, and the rhetoric we use. His advise: know thyself and be honest with yourself about your own style, your own preparation rhythms, your own season of life. I believe that every preacher needs to be reminded of this truth: God made you to be you, not someone else.
If you have read Lloyd-Jones on preaching, which of his words of advice most helped you?