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What Is Distinctive About Preaching, And How Does It Differ from Other Ministries of the Word? (Part 2)

As we saw in Part 1, preaching that is merely addressing individuals misses the main purpose and aim of the Bible, and so mistreats it. Those of us who preach should use the Bible for the main purpose for which God wrote it, to create, mature, train, correct, transform, equip, and perfect his church.

The Distinctive Role of Ministers of Churches

The Distinctive Role of Ministers of Churches

One of the reasons why ministers of churches have the primary responsibility for preaching is because they have special responsibility for the welfare and holiness of the church, and have special knowledge of the people. As I heard someone say recently, “The sermon you need to hear next Sunday is from your minister who knows you, loves you, and prays for you.”[1] These responsibilities inform their preaching, and mean that although their sermons are monologues in shape, they are dialogues in substance, as they anticipate objections, know what people know and don’t know, and encourage the whole church to respond to God. 

When ministers preach, they set the corporate tone of the congregation, declare the theology and vision of the congregation, set the standard for the congregation, and set the vision for the congregation. That is why ministers of churches should do most of the preaching. They are bringing God’s words to God’s people, they are doing corporate pastoral care, they are leading the congregation to know, love, and serve God. That is why ministers of churches double gifting, leadership and teaching, as Chris Green explains [2], for they are “leaders who speak the word of God”, they are “elders, who labour in teaching and preaching” [Hebrews 13:7, 1 Timothy 5:17]. It is the preacher who addresses the word of God to the people who are those to whom the Bible is addressed. If you want to see examples of such corporate pastoral care, read Deuteronomy, the letters to the churches in the New Testament, and Christ’s messages to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. 

Malachi: Pastoral Leadership in Practice

Malachi: Pastoral Leadership in Practice

It is also significant that Malachi, like most books in the Bible, was addressed to the people of God, the church of that day, and not to individuals. This means that if we read or preach Malachi and apply it to us as individuals only, we will miss an important element of the message. [3]

“Scripture is God preaching”,[4] and part of this sermon is the book Malachi. So we should follow what God has done, and address this book to the church of our day. Our first question should be, “What is God saying to us?” Not, “What is God saying to me?” or “What is God saying to individuals in the congregation?”

So rather than looking for individual application, we should work for corporate application. “Corporate” here does not mean big business, it means “body”, as in “the body of Christ.” We should train ourselves to look for the shared values of our churches, our shared godliness, our shared sins, our shared blind spots, our shared weaknesses, our shared strengths.

Let’s take as examples two issues from Malachi: robbing God, and speaking harsh words against God [3:6–15]. The issue is more than, “How do we as individuals rob God?” The issues are, “How are we as a church robbing God?” and, “How is our church letting individuals rob God and not challenging them?” and, “How is my robbing God setting a bad example to others in the church?”, and, “What am I doing to challenge the church as a whole to stop robbing God?”, and, “What are our church leaders doing to stop individuals and the church as a whole robbing God?”

Similarly, the issue is more than, “How do we as individuals speak harsh words against God?” The issues are, “How are we as a church speaking harsh words against God?” and, “How is our church letting individuals speak harsh words against God and not challenging them?” and, “How is my speaking harsh words against God setting a bad example to others in the church?” and, “What am I doing to challenge the church as a whole to stop speaking harsh words against God?” and, “What are our church leaders doing to stop individuals and the church speaking harsh words against God?”

While the pattern of life of the people of God is Malachi’s primary concern, his message is still demanding for individuals! Let’s use the Bible for the purpose for which God wrote it, and teach and preach it to the church! Our prayer should be not “May God bring his message home to some people today”, but rather, “May God speak to us all today, and make us the people he wants us to be.” The sermon you need to hear next Sunday is the sermon preached directly to the church you belong to, so that you can be part of its growing corporate maturity in Christ.

Conclusion

Conclusion

There are many ministries of the word in our churches, as rightly so, as the word of Christ dwells richly among us as we all teach and admonish one another with all wisdom [Colossians 3:16].[5] We need Bible studies in small groups, we need ministries of the word with young people and children, and we need ministries of the word with enquirers and unbelievers.

But we need our Sunday sermon! It is the one time each week when the people of God meet the word of God, and so the role of those who preach God’s word to God’s people is one unique importance. Here we gather around God and hear him speak to us through his Spirit-inspired Scriptures.


[1] Thanks, David Robertson.

[2] Chris Green, Cutting to the heart: Applying the Bible in teaching and preaching, Nottingham, IVP, 2015, pp. 236–241.

[3] This material is taken from the introduction to my The Message of Malachi, The Bible Speaks Today, Nottingham, IVP, 2013, 18–19.

[4] J.I. Packer, God Has Spoken, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1979, 97. 

[5] See my Speaking God’s Words, Leicester, IVP, 1996/Vancouver, Regent College Publishing, 2004, 59–73, and Written for Us: Receiving God’s words in the Bible, Nottingham, IVP, 107–130.

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