We have arrived at a crucial time in human history where humanity has degenerated to an extent where many people feel that preaching is no longer relevant. The centrality of the preaching ministry is being dissipated in most of our churches today. Instead, many churches spend countless hours singing and dancing and then allot a few minutes at the end for a short exhortation which they will still call “preaching”. What is worse is that preachers are accepting this. Many preachers today have lost the sense of their high calling in God. Sadly, this has resulted in a loss of God’s chief instrument in the conversion of souls and so many churches today are filled with wolves in sheep skins masquerading as church members. This needs to be reversed. We need to see again the abiding relevance of preaching. There are spiritual needs in God’s world that can only be addressed by preaching and nothing else. What are some of them?

The need to hear God’s voice today

Preaching is relevant today because people still need to hear God’s voice on subjects that they would not want to listen hear. Is this not what made the ministry of prophets so important in the Old Testament dispensation? Men and women gathered around them many false prophets to say to them, “Peace! Peace!” where there was not peace. This false peace continued until an Elijah or Isaiah showed up on the scene and said, “Thus saith the Lord…”

This need is still an abiding one today. The apostle Paul warned Timothy, “The time is coming when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears what to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3). Preachers sent from God must fulfil the task that Paul was telling Timothy to fulfil. They must make people hear what God really wants them to hear.

Paul said the same about the demands that the Jews and the Gentiles had upon the preachers of the early church. He said, Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). The society around wanted a certain religious message, but those sent from God did not yield to their desires. They did not pamper their egos. Instead they went with the one message that God had given them to deliver, and it was a message of reconciliation only through God’s crucified Son – Jesus Christ.

Even today, both religious and unreligious people give their ears to what they want to hear. Go into their homes and see what kind of books they are reading and you will find that it is the usual popular “feel good” messages. Join them as they watch the television or listen to the radio and you will find the same message coming through the speakers. Even when they open their Bibles, they have their favourite verses – usually the promises of God – which they turn to again and again. However, God sends his preachers into the world, the way he sent his prophets to tell them what they may not want to hear but what they, in fact, need to hear – i.e. the message of salvation by faith through Jesus Christ’s merit alone.

A true preacher is a man who starts with God. He studies God’s word to see its relevance to his community of hearers. It may be a message they do not want to hear but his heart will be full with this message and he will go and unburden himself in their ears. The world wants to hear something that exalts their ability even in the matter of salvation whilst the preacher is under oath of God to preach the whole counsel of God. Most hearers feel irritated to be told about their total depravity and the holiness of God, about a salvation to which they contribute nothing but is solely by the grace of God. Yet, the preacher, as an ambassador of Christ, ought to do just that. Charles Spurgeon uses a metaphor of an ambassador to illustrate the gravity of the preacher’s preaching work, “but does not the very soul of the ambassadorial office lie in the appointment which is made by the monarch represented?” (1998: 26). A true preacher, like an ambassador, bears the message of his master to his master’s people and he will not plane off its rough edges. He will tell it “as it is.” Who can doubt that our generation desperately needs such preachers?

The need for an authoritative voice today

Preaching is also relevant today because its authoritative nature is best suited to convey the message of God to a rebellious world. However sophisticated and religious human beings may be the Bible makes it very clear that they are in rebellion against God. A naughty son is still accountable to his father though his behaviour shows the opposite. The accountability is rooted in their father-son relationship. So, though man is completely depraved as evidenced by his stubbornness against his Creator, he still remains under his rule as a created being.

So God sends preachers to the world in its state of rebellion in order for humanity to hear the authoritative call back to him in repentance. This authority does not lie in the preacher but in the word of God that they convey. Wayne Grudem says, “Throughout the history of the church, the greatest preachers have been those who recognised they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of the Scriptures and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Essentially, they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation. ‘This is what this verse means…’” (1994: 82).

However, having said that, preaching is in itself an authoritative form of communication, which suits the message being communicated. Imagine taking a message from the State President or Prime Minister to the leader of a rebellion in the form of a song. The message may be correct but the vehicle through which it is sent is not best suited to convey the message. The message must be declared with fervour and seriousness. That is what preaching is. There is no doubt that God, in his sovereign purpose, uses means most suited to the end for which they are intended. With respect to the matter of salvation, he has been pleased to use preaching, more than anything else, to convey his saving message efficaciously to this fallen world.

The story is told of a young man in England who went with his parents for a holiday to a European country. While there, they went to church on Sunday, but only his parents could understand the foreign language. When the service was over and they were driving home, the boy asked his father what the sermon was about and the father gave some vague answer and changed the subject. However, the boy interjected his father and, with tears in his eyes, pleaded, “Dad, please tell me what that preacher was saying. The way he was speaking gave me the impression that whatever it was, it was a matter of life and death!” Surely, that is how our preaching should be, even if our hearers cannot hear what we are saying.

The need for a life-transforming ministry today

Preaching is also relevant today because our nations are in desperate need of transformation. Look at Zambia, for instance. Economic corruption is very rife in this country. Cases of corruption are what make the newspapers newsworthy. Where are we going to find the answers to these moral vices? Civil organisations are busy giving anti-corruption tips of all sorts yet what people need are not tips on behavioural change but a total overhaul. Depraved hearts cannot be changed by a few tips. They need the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about a lasting transformation.

The Holy Spirit uses truly anointed preaching to bring about such transformation. History is replete with such examples in Europe and America, where records have been kept. The moral fabric of entire communities has been totally changed due to powerful preaching. Beer halls and taverns have had to be shut down due to the lack of clients. Policemen and judges have run out of work because there was a drastic fall in the number of crimes being reported. This is in the documents of history that record the ministries of men like George Whitefield and John Wesley.

Yet this is not only limited to historical documents written by uninspired men. We find the same in the Holy Scriptures. The apostle Paul wrote about how his preaching transformed the people of Thessalonica. “For we know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia… They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-10).

Why are we not seeing such glorious transformations today? I think that it is because those of us who are preachers are not taking our work seriously enough. We are skimping on our work and somehow still expect that the Holy Spirit will bless our labours. That will not happen. Nothing short of prayer and hard work in studying the Scriptures and how to preach effectively, will produce this kind of effect upon our society. Once this becomes a consistent way in which we carry out our preaching ministry it will not be long before the Lord sets his seal of approval upon it and social transformation will follow our ministry.

Johann Odendaal underscores this point by quoting an English Puritan preacher, David Clarkson, who describes the work of God through preaching this way, “The most wonderful things that are now done on earth are wrought in the public ordinances with preaching as the central element. Here the Lord speaks life unto dry bones and raises dead souls out of the grave and sepulchre of sin… Here the dead hear the voice of the Son of God and his messengers and those that hear do live…” (Holdt, 2005: 6)

Sadly, this is not the case today. One Reformed pastor in Zambia made us laugh during a pastor’s fraternal when he said, “If you throw a stone in Cairo Road

during working hours, it will either land on the head of a street kid or a pastor.” He was trying to show us that there are as many street kids in Lusaka’s streets as there are pastors, while their church members are busy plying out their trade. Surely that is wrong. We ought to be busy in the ministry of the word and prayer.

                Let this sink in our minds that preachers are “essential workers”. The transformation of our world, spiritually and socially, depends on the fruit of the pulpit. Therefore, preachers ought to be always engaged in the work of the salvation of sinners and the sanctification of saints, preparing God’s people for works of service. This must be their passion.

Conclusion

It is clear that preaching is indispensable today. Where there is no preaching, the so-called converts will be wolves in sheep skins. Churches should value preaching. All other aspects of the church’s life must be subservient to preaching. Preachers must realise that their calling is a high calling. They must see themselves as men who are standing on the edge of hell conducting a rescue operation in the name of God. Their calling and gifts are best suited for this operation even in today’s silicon-chip age.

Bibliography

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Holdt, M (Ed). Preaching and Preachers: February 2005 journal

Spurgeon, Charles. Lectures to my Students. Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1998.