I have been reading again one of my oldest and dearest books on preaching entitled "Preaching & Preachers" by the London pastor, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). The book is actually a series of lectures he gave to theological students of Westminster Seminary. Although I first bought this book when I thought I myself might be heading toward the ministry, I have found it to offer much valuable information, encouragement, and instruction to myself as a non-preacher as well. I highly recommend it to anyone who listens to preaching.
Lloyd-Jones, by the way, was a medical physician who left that profession to enter the ministry in 1927. He is known, affectionately to many, as just "the Doctor."
What has struck me in this re-reading are his thoughts on what he calls 3 types of sermons. He suggests that a balanced ministry will include all 3 types, and that the preacher should organize his ministry in a way that all 3 types are being regularly preached. These 3 types of sermons are:
Type 1: Evangelistic
Type 2: Experimental (focus on issues, problems, life in general)
Type 3: Instructional, doctrine, theological
To put it in the words of the doctor himself:
"In other words, every Preacher should be, as it were, at least three types or kinds of Preacher. There is the preaching which is primarily evangelistic. This should take place at least once a week. There is the preaching which is instructional teaching but mainly experimental. That I generally did on Sunday morning. There is a more purely instructional type of preaching which I personally did on a week-night." (Preaching & Preachers, p. 63).
Now, Lloyd-Jones himself would emphasize that these distinctions "should not be pressed in too absolute a sense." In other words, good preaching will probably have at least something of all 3 types in every sermon.
That being said, I think Lloyd-Jones is right. Most sermons I have heard could probably, overall, be put into one of those three categories.
And here is the problem - it is possible (and I think fairly common) for preachers and churches today to get into a habit of only preaching just ONE type of sermon week after week.
THE TYPE 2 CHURCH:
For example, I believe that vast majority of preaching that goes on in our Protestant churches today is the type 2 sermon above. It is a type of experimental preaching. The focus is generally on problem-solving and dealing with issues Christian's face. Look through the sermon list of many church websites and what you find are sermons about marriage, divorce, suffering, grief, parenting, living strong, being a better Christian, life in the church...
For the most part, these are all type-two sermons. They focus on the Christian and how he or she experiences life both inside and outside the church. And the sermon gives instruction on how to live that life.
Absent are sermons entitled something like "Christ's Divinity - Defined and defended" or "modern heresies" or "The Trinity" or "Justification by Faith Alone" or "God's eternal decrees" or "limited atonement explained" or "the second coming" or "implications of the virgin birth" or "God's holiness explained." Doctrine is absent.
Absent are also the more truly evangelistic sermons - in the truest sense of the word. I'm not talking about the "give Jesus a try" kind of talks. This is not Biblical evangelism. True evangelistic preaching exposes the real danger mankind is in due to sin, the consequences of sin, the remedy for sin and the only way to obtain that remedy - which is by faith in Christ.
THE TYPE 3 CHURCH:
On the other hand, there are other circles in which the type-two sermon almost never happens. For this church it is all about type-three: Doctrine. The preaching relies heavily on systematic theology, the confessions and foundational instruction. Maybe the Reformed circles are more prone to falling into this trap than any other. This is just an observation from a layman. So I admit my perspective may be skewed.
However, if there is any truth to the fact that "type-three" churches exist, then the result could be Christians who are well instructed in the foundational doctrines of the Bible but very ill-equipped to live out that faith in their lives. The preacher may say things like "this is very important" but in reality the people in the pew have no idea why it should be so important to them. It makes no difference in their everyday life when they have to go home to a bitter spouse, rebellious children, chronic pain, an ungodly workplace, loneliness, personal addictions or any number of other real problems.
THE TYPE 1 CHURCH:
Finally, I suppose that there are also type-one churches out there. They preach the gospel to sinners every week. Maybe this includes an altar call (no comment on that practice at the moment). I think this type of church probably existed more in the past than it does today. Maybe I'm wrong. But my own little and limited perspective on our evangelical situation is that true Gospel-preaching is a rare exception, a special-occasion-only event, and not the week to week menu in most churches.
So what? A couple closing thoughts come to mind.
1) Preaching a balance of these 3 different types of sermons is, it seems to me, especially unlikely today because most churches rarely have "preaching" more than once a week. This, we have to admit, is a failure of the modern church. I'm guessing I could get a lot of "preacher" friends upset at me for such a comment. But frankly, I think preaching once a week (or less than that for some places) is at least a very strange (historically speaking) way to do ministry. Lloyd-Jones said "I contest very strongly and urge that there should always be one evangelistic service in connection with each church every week. I would make this an absolute rule without any hesitation whatsoever." (Preaching & Preachers, p. 151). But with only one sermon per week...this is impossible if you wish to maintain a balanced ministry.
2) Hearing a balance of these 3 types of sermons is unlikely today because we "hearers" are now accustomed to only listening to 1 sermon a week (at best). Maybe this habit could be changed if hearers got used to knowing that an evening or week-night sermon was going to be of a different "type" and therefore understood it to be part of a "balanced spiritual diet." I don't know. But it is worth thinking about at least. Here is what the Doctor says in this book "We must convince them [church goers] of the importance of being present at every service of the church. Every service! Why? If they are not present at every service they may well find one day that they were not present when something really remarkable took place." (Preaching & Preachers, p. 153).
3) I think we need reminding that Christians need to hear evangelistic preaching too. Every true believer loves to hear the gospel faithfully preached. It is the message that saved us. And a preacher makes a grave mistake in thinking ALL his congregation is saved, so he doesn't need to preach the gospel like that anymore. Not to mention the fact that our churches are probably filled with "professing" Christians who are not actually believers at all. To put it in Lloyd-Jones words "There is something essentially wrong with a man who calls himself a Christian and who can listen to a truly evangelistic sermon without coming under conviction again, without feeling something of his own unworthiness, and rejoicing when he hears the Gospel remedy being presented." (Preaching & Preachers, p. 150).
4) Finally, for any preacher who is either offended or discouraged by this post, I highly recommend picking up Preaching & Preachers and reading it (again). You have been called to the highest and most important work that goes on in this world. Businessmen build companies that will one day be sold or collapse. Doctors and medical professionals (like myself) help treat illnesses, but everyone is ultimately going to die anyway. Every job is, in some sense, just killing time. But preaching is an eternity-focused endeavor. The grass withers and the flower fades, but God's Word endures forever.
In the words of the Doctor "To me the work of preaching is the highest and greatest and most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called."