What It Means to Preach

Rev. Billy Graham

“One of the great pleasures in life is conversation.”

— Sydney Smith, 19th Century English essayist

God desires to converse with His creation in personal and intimate ways. His revelation through Christ speaks to the degree of how much He wants to engage in our lives and tell us about what He created us to be. At the heart of this process through time stands the Christian preacher. There is perhaps no role in the human landscape more recognizable, more timeless, and more complex than that of the preacher, the parson, the priest, the evangelist. Even in societies where such a person is regarded as comical or fanatical, he is still unavoidably recognizable. It is easy to underestimate the impact on history, time, and culture that the one who is called to preach the gospel has had. Yet, two millennia after the first preacher of the gospel walked the earth, the question still hangs in the air for debate and consideration: what does it mean to preach the gospel?

To preach the gospel is to communicate. God has certain expectations, desires, and commands which order the way in which humanity relates to one another and him. Truth is an Ultimate objective reality, not something humanity is able to fabricate. God’s truth and ways are seen to be far above us and in many ways incomprehensible. God cannot be grasped or clearly seen. And yet He has come and come in very concrete ways. There are rational, logical, intellectual truths that the human mind is designed to respond to because of God’s grace. His truth presented in Scripture transcends all cultures and all people. Yet, it penetrates the heart of all cultures and all environments to transform people’s minds and lives, engaging them in the life of God.

His truth presented in Scripture transcends all cultures and all people.

This does not happen mysteriously. It is not through “The Force” as in Lucas’ Star Wars universe. Truth becomes fleshed-out. The divine abstracts are connected to the human concrete through interpretation and application. The preacher should be one skilled in study and one who devotes extensive time to learning truth; to be one who belongs to the community and understands the language and symbols in which the community finds meaning. It is through this vessel of the one who speaks and explains and understands that God communicates. This vessel is the preacher and the communication is preaching.

To preach the gospel is also to demonstrate. The Ultimate truth being considered and appropriated is not simply a logical, rational, intellectual message, but an experiential way of existing. God is not ultimately an idea to be grasped and understood, but a Person to be experienced and communed with. If the concrete world of ideas and fact communicates the uniqueness and the particulars of a Holy God, it is the demonstrative life of one living in and through a community that communicates the personal-ness and the nature of that truth. Truth is not a fixed, rigid declaration of how things are to be that demands all creatures fall in line. Truth is communing and moving together with the Person of God; where the lives of all of creation are joined in a dance with the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God’s ultimate truth is conveyed personally not academically: the person of Jesus Christ. The Incarnation is the most complete statement about Truth. Through the Holy Spirit, the life of Christ is extended and enabled in all of humanity. The preacher stands as a beacon, a mirror reflecting that life and dynamic truth for his community. Truth is conveyed through fact, explanation, and understanding of the mind. Truth is likewise conveyed through the behavior and daily life of the one who speaks even as he speaks.

To preach is lastly to represent. The priestly function in the Old Testament was one of mediating between man and God. Leadership throughout the Scriptures always carries with it this mantle of mediation; one who stands as a link between God and humanity. A preacher’s role is far more than standing up to talk about God for 40 minutes; it is to function as a voice of one community to the other in the context of a community. All of the life of the church with God draws its meaning and focus from this central voice. The preacher stands as a representative of God to man. The communication of truth, the explanation and application of scripture to lives, demonstrating what it looks like to be in communion with God; all of these things bring God to man.

A preacher also functions as the representative of man to God speaking as a voice for the people. In the task of helping the people respond to God’s vision, in setting the tone for worship, in enabling men and women to become involved in personal ministry; these things all are the church’s response to God and it is the preacher who leads the way. In a sense, he becomes the chief hearer of the Word and leads the way in responding to it; he is the chief worshipper leading the community in celebrating and adoring God. Through his leadership he sets the tone for how the community responds with their corporate and individual lives to God.

It is a daunting and overwhelming task and life to which one is called as a preacher of the gospel. It is the marriage of the divine and the human in the way that sets the standard for how all of a unique community will actualize the call to be God’s people. The preacher’s task is to confront all aspects of human life—the cognitive, the emotive, the affective, the personal, and the corporate – and engage them with the fullness of God’s life. This means to be a communicator who connects timeless, divine truth revealed through careful study with the actual, real fabric of life through appropriate language and symbols. This means a demonstrator who brings the truth of the mind into harmony with the truth of the spirit and becomes a living portrait of that to which he points. This means a representative who stands in the midst of the congregation as God’s visible ambassador and stands in the presence of God as the chief giver of the people. This is what it means to preach the gospel.

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