The following article is an excerpt from a chapter that was originally published in Preaching and Preachers: 40th Anniversary Edition (Zondervan, 2011). Reprinted by permission from the publisher.
Besides the Bible, there are few books I deliberately reread. There are many books in my library that I pull off the shelf frequently to check on some fact, interpretation, or point of theology. There are a number of other books that I like so much I can’t help but take them down from time to time and read through my favorite portions. (Books are, after all, like old friends.)
But for better or worse (probably worse), there aren’t many books I make a point to reread from cover to cover. I can only think of three: Calvin’s Institutes, Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, and Lloyd-Jones’s Preaching and Preachers.
I remember vividly my first experience with Preaching and Preachers. I was in college and had gotten turned on to Reformed theology, Calvin, and the Puritans. Along the way I stumbled on Martyn Lloyd-Jones. From my first encounter with the Doctor, I was hooked. I read everything I could find. I even chugged through Iain Murray’s massive biography one semester (my bedtime reading!). Of all the books I read in my “Lloyd-Jones on steroids” phase, Preaching and Preachers is the one that sticks out most. I remember sitting at the unkempt kitchen table I shared with the seven other guys in our college housing and pouring over Lloyd-Jones’s homiletics classic (though he would hate me using the word homiletics just now). As I saw his passion, his wisdom, his utter commitment to preaching, and his strong opinions (on everything!), I knew for certain I wanted to be a preacher. I was absolutely mesmerized by this grand vision of the noblest, most important task on earth.
It would be years and hundreds of sermons before I learned how wise his remarks were, and I also learned it was acceptable (and part of my maturation) to disagree with a few of his convictions. The man was of the school of thought that said most opinions are worth sharing are worth sharing forcefully. So I can’t fully agree that announcing your text ahead of time restricts the Holy Spirit or that most of what you learn in a preaching class is bound to be harlotry in some way. But even with the idiosyncrasies, I can’t think of a book I’d rather read on preaching.
Still the Most Urgent Need
Why do I come back to this book every few years? What makes an old book by a dead man on an antiquated form of communication so powerful? The book is powerful because Lloyd-Jones so powerfully believes in the power of preaching. And what he believes is true.
The most-quoted line of Preaching and Preachers may be this one from the first page of the first chapter: “I would say without hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.” Whenever I read this first page I find myself crying, “Yes, yes, tell me more!” There are several specific points about application or preparation or humor or preaching method that sharpen my skills as a preacher. But what I love most about the book is that every time I read it, I walk away more in love with what I do. Not always how I do it, but that I get to do it. Preaching and Preachers is one of those rare books that for me—and I know this will sound “aw shucks”—not only instructs but inspires.
For Lloyd-Jones the goal of preaching is to give men and women a sense of the presence of God. That’s what I get from this book. I get the undeniable sense that preaching is a glorious thing, that churches desperately need good preaching, and that the world (though it doesn’t know it) is starving for good preaching. I read this book and believe again that it is a privilege unlike any other to slog through commentaries each week, type up outlines, and preach to several hundred people for one more Sunday. I finish the book and feel like fire can come down from heaven this week. I remember that the seed of God’s Word is never sown in vain. I get a new thrill to do the same thing I’ve already done a thousand times.
There are two audiences that most need to read this book: those who are considering the preaching ministry and those who are tired of it. I can’t lay this down as an absolute rule, but in general I would say that if you are not gripped by Lloyd-Jones’s passion for preaching, then you should really think whether you are called to preach. Again, I admit some may not take to this opinionated Welshman like I have, but I still think it’s a good rule of thumb: if Preaching and Preachers does not ignite a fire in your heart for the romance and glory of preaching, then preaching is probably not for you. There’s no shame in that, but it’s better to see that sooner rather than later.
If a young man is considering the ministry and he loves theology and Greek and Hebrew but says “meh” to this book, I wonder if he has the requisite enthusiasm for the chief task of pastoral ministry (I’m thinking here of those pastors whose main responsibility is to preach). If, however, your heart soars with each chapter and anecdote, make an effort to see if the church confirms what you sense in yourself. Likewise, if you’ve been at this preaching gig for two decades now, and you’re feeling worn out by the grind, the criticism, and the sameness of it all, I believe this book can be a tonic for your weary soul. It won’t solve everything. You’ll still have to work hard. You’ll still preach some lame sermons (I just did, and it hurts). But probably you’ll feel renewed. You’ll feel a little like you did 20 years ago when you first started out. You’ll get some of the zeal back, some of the faith that makes preaching sing, and the lack of which makes preaching clunk.
What the world needs now is preaching, sweet gospel preaching. Don’t give up on God’s appointed means of saving and sanctifying his people. Read Lloyd-Jones again, or for the first time, and you may just discover there’s Spirit-given life left in your dry bones.