One of the great strengths of Assembly life is the fact that there is not “one man ministry.” One of the great weaknesses in some places is “any man ministry”. There are men who stand at the pulpit who have no idea as to the purpose of the “exercise”.
There are three fundamental purposes of preaching: to engage the mind, touch the heart, and move the will. To phrase it a different way: a mental, an emotional, and a volitional response.
1. A meeting of the minds
The preacher is to convey truth which is the Word of God. There is a need to do this in such a way as to grab and hold attention. This is not about the preacher’s charisma or charm but about the relevance of the message to the audience. Often the preacher has no idea of what he hopes to accomplish.
We only need to look around the room to see if people are engaging and listening. The mind processes thoughts beyond the spoken word at any given time. We all know our thoughts can wander even while we are listening to someone.
What’s the point?
A message without a point becomes a pointless message. The preacher must grab the audience’s attention by telling them why the message is relevant. The reasons may be an exposition or explanation of a passage, things to consider, life changing, devotional thoughts, practical advice or any number of other reasons.
He then must present the truth of God’s Word in an understandable manner. There must be some structure and movement toward a conclusion. A rambling, hard to follow sermon will leave the audience bored and lost. There are times when I leave a meeting wondering what point the preacher was trying to make.
Consider the time
Time management is important in Western culture where we operate by the clock. There is a need to be conscious of your audience and their ability to understand and absorb the message. I do not preach the same way to children as I do in ministering to adults. I do not preach in prison or at a funeral of an unsaved person as I do at a conference.
2. The moving of the heart
This is not about the preacher touching the emotions but rather the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the product of prayer and the leading of the Spirit. A preacher may have a story that touches the emotions, but it is the work of the Holy Spirit to put the truth into a life.
There is an intimate connection between absorbing the truth in the mind and it working into the life. There must be understanding for application of the Word to take place.
3. The motivating of the will
This is the ultimate goal of preaching: that the audience do something with the truth they heard. This is the matter of personal exercise. The Holy Spirit does not force this to happen but does move the heart so that a believer knows he/she should respond. God works in, but we must work out in obedience to His will.
The preacher may be part of this process by conveying truth in an understandable manner so that it “may be worked in and then worked out”.
One may preach on John 17:17 from the “Lord’s prayer” that His own would be sanctified by the truth of God’s Word. The preacher explains what this means and declares the power and purpose of the Word. The Holy Spirit brings conviction to the listener about this matter. The believer then obeys and applies this to an area of his/her life or ignores the truth in disobedience.
Another example is the preaching of the gospel. People need to hear or read the Word. Faith comes by hearing. The preacher cannot do the inner work in the heart of a person. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness and judgment to come. Then the sinner must respond, either to accept by faith or to reject, it is a matter of the will.
In the past week, three people have talked to me on this topic. All are from different Assemblies and all three related the same thing – they recently heard preachers and came away with no idea or clue of the point of the sermons.