What is the preacher doing when they preach? Sometimes that question might be asked in a concerned tone – what is this preacher doing? But even without the negative or concerned tone, the question is worth pondering.
John Stott wrote about the task of the preacher in his book, Between Two Worlds. He recognized the biblical metaphors of herald, sower, ambassador, steward, shepherd and workman. He noted that each presents the preacher as one under the authority of another, one who communicates the word of another. Thus, he argued that preaching wasn’t mere presentation of exegesis, but also communication to a contemporary situation. It is this “two-world” approach that led to his use of the metaphor of the preacher as a bridge-builder between the world of the Scriptures and the world of the listener (and necessarily in that order, for the “type of bridge to be built must be determined more by the biblical revelation than by the zeitgeist or the spirit of the age.”)
While affirming Stott’s simplified model of preaching, there are other aspects of the preacher’s role that should be highlighted. Yes, the preacher has to seek to represent the text effectively, while also targeting effective communication for the pastoral good of those receiving the message. Furthermore, the preacher always has a prayerful responsibility (almost priestly, but you’ve got to be careful with that language), to stand before the throne of grace on behalf of those to whom the message will be preached. The preacher also has to take into account that he/she typically does not know everyone who will be present when the message is presented, so there is an ambassadorial role in respect to representing the God of the Bible to those who may only ever make an overt personal evaluation of this God based on this message (especially if the representation is poor!)
William Sanford LaSor once wrote that “the art of preaching is the application of Scripture to the present situation. . . For the preacher who believes that the Bible is the authoritative word of God in every generation, his task is to start with the text of Scripture and to derive from it a message that will be in effect the word of God to his audience.”
So I’m back to my original question. What is the preacher doing? Any answer that is content with an inherently impersonal definition of preaching is inadequate. Preaching is not merely presenting information. Neither is it merely presenting information for the good of generic people-in-general who may be listening. Preaching involves personally representing the God who has revealed Himself in His Word, supremely in His Son, by His Spirit, to specific people that He is wooing, winning and nurturing. It involves representing not only information, but the tone, the manner, the character of a personal God to people who may or may not know Him. However we define preaching, it must include something about the persons of the Trinity, the preacher as a person and the listeners as people.
So next time you preach, what might someone say if they asked themselves, what is this preacher doing? What would you want them to say?