Preaching the everlasting gospel is a task that must be done with passion, power, and persuasion. The mission of the preacher is to present the Savior to sin-sick contemporary people in such a way that Jesus will be accepted as the Redeemer. If this is to be achieved, certain unique characteristics must be part of this proclamation. Here are the first five features which should characterize the proclamation of the good news.
Since all communication between heaven and the fallen human race has been made possible through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:10, 11), contemporary preaching should be Christ-centered. The gospel minister is exhorted to study the science of redemption as it is espoused through Christ. Jesus Christ—crucified, ascended, and coming again—should gladden the preacher. This will lead him or her to prepare and preach Christ-centered sermons. Indeed, Christ-centered sermons come only from Christcentered preachers, who in turn prepare Christ-centered congregations.
Closely connected to this is the fact that whenever Christ is mentioned as Lord, all other lords are thrown into disarray. Let us consider a few examples from the Bible. When the news of Christ’s birth was made known to King Herod, the king was troubled. Think about it—the mere mention that Christ had been born threw people into complete disarray. Matthew 2:1-3 says, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”
The numerous atrocities which Herod committed troubled the city of Jerusalem. Apart from murdering the members of his immediate family (whom he suspected of plotting against him), he later ordered the killing of all children who were two years old and younger (read Matthew 2:16). In Acts 17:6, 7, the Bible tells again of the disarray caused by the Christ-centered message of the apostles: “And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, these that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.”
We read of a similar experience in Acts 26, where King Festus accused Paul of being mad, while King Agrippa confessed that Paul almost persuaded him to become a Christian. This is always the result of Christ-centered messages. They project the cross of Jesus Christ as the central theme of contemporary sermons.
If the preacher is not committed to presenting the centrality of the Cross to the congregation, then the preaching, however brilliant or eloquent, is doomed to sterility and failure. We see ourselves preaching about the Christ of the Mount, Christ of the healing ministry, Christ of the sublime example, Christ of the Social Gospel, Christ who was crucified, and the Resurrected Christ; rarely, if ever, do we preach the Christ of the Cross.
Contemporary preachers seem to have evaded the very heart of the Christian message. In our preaching we tend to decry the human predicament, the turmoil of our lives, and the evil in our contemporary society. We wonder if there is a solution for all these problems. The Solution is staring us in the face. It is the way of Christ, the way of the Cross, which will ultimately lead us home. Contemporary preachers should try to put the cross of Christ in its proper perspective as Christ is lifted up in today’s messages.
The Bible is the greatest storehouse for all preaching, and sound biblical sermons are usually Bible-based. “Thus said the Lord” and “The Bible tells us” should be on the lips of all contemporary preachers. The Bible gives the sermon authenticity. Ministers of the gospel should not read from Genesis and end up preaching from magazines or newspapers. Preachers today are challenged to preach messages from Genesis to Malachi and from Matthew to Revelation. Ellen G. White puts it this way: “When God’s Word is studied, comprehended, and obeyed, a bright light will be reflected to the world; new truths, received and acted upon, will bind us in strong bonds to Jesus. The Bible, and the Bible alone, is to be our creed, the sole bond of union; all who bow to this Holy Word will be in harmony. . . . Let us meet all opposition as did our Master, saying, ‘It is written.’ Let us lift up the banner on which is inscribed, ‘The Bible our rule of faith and discipline.’”a
Practical application of the message is another characteristic of contemporary preaching. Practical aspects of life and religion should be integrated into the sermon. “Sermons should fortify hearers for the daily battles of life. . . . Fanciful representation of truth may cause an ecstasy of feeling, but all too often truths presented in this way do not supply the food necessary to strengthen and fortify the believer for battles of life. The immediate needs, the present trials, of struggling souls—these must be met with sound, practical instruction in the fundamental principles of Christianity.”b
These days the economy is not as buoyant as it was before, and people should be encouraged to work with their hands in farms and gardens. Members should also be taught good health principles; if they get sick, pastoral visits and prayer would be appropriate. A young deacon, Stephen A. Solomon, suddenly became sick in the middle of the week and was rushed to the community medical center. After two days at the medical center, a social worker who visited him asked if his pastor should be notified of his illness. After thinking very deeply, Stephen said that his pastor should not be notified. The social worker wanted to know the reason for Stephen’s refusal. The sick man replied that he wanted to know if his pastor would miss him and ask what had happened to him. Isn’t this interesting? A sick member wanting to know if his pastor will discover that one of his “sheep” is missing? Yes, the proclamation of the gospel from the pulpit cannot be complete until its practical aspect is demonstrated in the life of the shepherd. For preaching to be practical, personal contact must be maintained with the members. Sermons are not addressed to a crowd but to specific individuals in the audience.
The importance of illustration in present-day preaching cannot be over-emphasized. Truth is bitter, and for it to be accepted, it must be well-illustrated during our proclamations. Jesus Christ is the master Illustrator, and we should follow His example. “Christ’s figures and illustrations help make the truth plain: He presents before their minds figures and illustrations with which they are familiar, to make plain the truth He wishes them to communicate, and the Holy Spirit assists them in the use of these figures and illustrations.”c
A minister’s message should have positive and negative dimensions. Every preacher is called upon to realize the sacredness of his or her calling and demonstrates the courage of Elijah and the humility of Moses in every proclamation. Preachers today should reprove and rebuke the disobedient as well as encourage the obedient. “Do not choose subjects that please people and offend none. . . . This is shunning the cross of Christ. You see one man selfish; another controlled by pride or passion; another robbing God in tithes and offerings; and another doubting and unbelieving. . . . For each of these there is a special message in the Word of God.”d
Our message should be prepared and delivered in such a way that all who hear it will be compelled to admit the truth. The preacher should be able to persuade people to see and accept the reality of the message being presented. That was exactly what Christ did during His time. “Christ’s message pierced the conscience and revealed the inmost thoughts. When Christ preached, His message was like a sharp, two-edged sword, piercing the consciences of men and revealing their inmost thoughts. The work that Christ did, His faithful messengers will have to do. In simplicity, purity, and the strictest integrity they are to preach the Word. Those who labor in word or doctrine are to be faithful to their charge.”e
Decision in this context means what has been decided after due consideration. It also stands for accepting one view or teaching in the place of others. Sermons should be presented in such a way that the congregation, after due consideration, will decide to do what the preacher has presented through the influence of the Holy Spirit. Appeals should be made at the end of every sermon. Some who are trembling in the balance may have one last opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. “Win decisions by combining the theory of the truth and Christ’s redeeming love—some ministers err in making their sermons wholly argumentative. There are those who listen to the theory of the truth, and are impressed with the evidences brought out . . . . But often the cross of Calvary is not presented before the people. Some may be listening to the last sermon they will ever hear, and the golden opportunity is lost forever. If in connection with the theory of the truth, Christ and His redeeming love had been proclaimed, these might have been won to His side.”f
During Christ’s earthly ministry, all groups of people heard Him gladly. One of the reasons Jesus was able to communicate effectively was His use of simple language. Preachers today should do the same. Simple and clear words are needed in presenting the good news. The minister who preaches the good news needs to cultivate sound speech and refined deportment at all times and in all circumstances.
A story is told of an elderly man, Chief Obinna Emmanuel, who, in the company of his two sons, was inspecting a new house he had just purchased. The first son, 20 years old, was an undergraduate studying microbiology at a university in Lagos, and he had just taken a course in ornithology. The second son, 12 years old, had just completed his primary education in the same city. When the trio went to the back of the building, the undergraduate saw an egret lying dead in a pit. He quickly went over and picked up the bird. Its offensive odor disgusted him. When the younger brother wanted to know what was wrong, his older brother responded by saying, “This egret is undergoing a process of decomposition and putrefaction as a result of avian microbial infection.” The young boy wanted to know what that meant. His father replied, “The bird is dead and it smells.” Indeed, simple words are needed in the pulpit and in all spheres of communication.
AVOID LENGTHY SERMONS
Another feature that should characterize our messages is brevity. The sermon with all its parts should be direct and to the point. Lengthy sermons tax the strength of the preacher and the patience of the listeners. Note also that what is spoken about in the early part of the sermon is more valuable than what comes later, when the people are anxious to go home. “When the discourse is too long, the last part detracts from that which preceded it. Speak short. Your discourses are generally double the length they should be. It is possible to handle a good thing in such a manner that it loses its flavor. When a discourse is too long, the last part of the preaching detracts from the force and interest of that which has preceded it. Do not wander, but come right to the point.”g
TIMELY AND APPROPRIATE SERMONS ARE NEEDED
The message should also be relevant, timely, and appropriate. In these days of suicide bombings, attacks, plane crashes, landslides, and floods, men and women need comfort and consolation. When the king of Syria planned various attacks on Israel, the timely message of Elisha saved the king of Israel and his people from their enemies (2 Kings 6:8-23). When the community is in danger, without food, and surrounded by disease and death, a message of hope will be most appropriate.
To preach messages that will be relevant to the lives of the parishioners, the preacher must be aware of their needs. The preacher must be a good shepherd who is concerned with the daily welfare of the people. Let us consider the importance of placing before the congregation the right spiritual food at the right time through this important counsel: “There are men who stand in the pulpits as shepherds, professing to feed the flock, while the sheep are starving for the bread of life. There are long, drawn-out discourses, largely made up of . . . anecdotes; but the hearts of the hearers are not touched. The feelings of some may be moved, they may shed a few tears, but their hearts are not broken. The Lord Jesus has been present when they have been presenting that which was called sermons, but their words were destitute of the dew and rain of heaven. The Lord God of heaven cannot approve much that is brought into the pulpit by those who are professedly speaking the word of the Lord. They do not inculcate ideas that will be a blessing to those who hear. There is cheap, very cheap fodder placed before the people.”h
a Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, 1:416.
b _______, The Acts of the Apostles, 251.
c _______, Pastoral Ministry, 193.
d _______, Review and Herald, June 17, 1884.
e _______, Selected Messages, 2:159.
f _______, Gospel Workers, 158.
g _______, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 311.
h Ibid., 336, 337.
Philemon O. Amanze, Ph.D., is a senior lecturer in the Religious Studies Department and director of the Ellen G. White/ SDA Research Centre at Babcock University in Nigeria.