A while ago, I attended preaching workshop. A number of young aspiring leaders were there. 'Workshops' involve doing something. So I was looking forward to seeing what would happen. Were we going to preach? And what was meant by preaching here? Were we going to hit the town and share the gospel with passers by?
I was slightly disappointed, but not really surprised by what actually happened. The speaker quoted extensively from two great books:
- Preaching and Preachers by Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones*
- I Believe in Preaching by John Stott.
I don't know how and when it has happened, but whoever began to call 'teaching' 'preaching' has done us a great disservice.
I find it breathtaking and amazing that two of our most noted Christian leaders* have written entire books on 'preaching', which are regarded as classics, taking it to mean speaking from church pulpits. Didn't they even bother to look the word up?
I am not just being picky here. This is a serious error. It means that church leaders can kid themselves that they are doing the work of the Gospel by preparing a sermon every Sunday. The truth is, when you're in that pulpit, everyone is sat listening politely in rows. Nobody heckles, shouts, interrupts – except perhaps with an 'Amen'. It is not even customary to ask questions at the end**. Few people dare to challenge you afterwards or say anything discouraging, and hopefully you will get the odd bouquet.
We live in an era when fewer people than ever go outside the walls of a church to preach even though the need is at its greatest. We should not be put off by those who do it badly - it can be done very effectively. Most people in the UK, especially the North, will not normally go into a church. The old method of taking someone to hear a preacher at church or an evangelistic crusade will not do it. It may help, but the real need today is to send people out to preach. Let me quote for another book still, 'Lectures to my Students' by CH Spurgeon, who unlike Jones and Stott, devotes a chapter to open air preaching.
No sort of defense is needed for preaching out-of-doors; but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the walls of his meetinghouse. A defense is required rather for services within buildings than for worship outside of them. Apologies are certainly wanted for architects who pile up brick and stone into the skies when there is so much need for preaching rooms among poor sinners down below.... no defense whatever is wanted for using the Heavenly Father's vast audience chamber, which is in every way so well fitted for the proclamation of a Gospel so free, so full, so expansive, so sublime.
The great benefit of open-air preaching is that we get so many newcomers to hear the Gospel who otherwise would never hear it. The Gospel command is, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," but it is so little obeyed that one would imagine that it ran thus, "Go into your own place of worship and preach the Gospel to the few creatures who will come inside."
We ought actually to go into the streets and lanes and highways, for there are lurkers in the hedges, tramps on the highways, street-walkers and lane-haunters, whom we shall never reach unless we pursue them into their own domains. Sportsmen must not stop at home and wait for the birds to come and be shot at, neither must fishermen throw their nets inside their boats and hope to take many fish. Traders go to the markets; they follow their customers and go out after business if it will not come to them; and so must we. Some of our brethren are prosing on and on to empty pews and musty hassocks, while they might be conferring lasting benefit upon hundreds by quitting the old walls for a while, and seeking living stones for Jesus.
* I need to make it clear that I hold Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones in high regard – do read his books or listen to his sermons. I may do whole post on him in the near future. Alas, I disagree with John Stott on so many fundamental issues, and I cannot recommend him.
** Actually, in my view it should be. I may explain why one day