Every week the average congregate knows what to expect from Pastor John Doe when he stands in his pulpit week after week. The content will be true. The content will even be based upon the text. However, that average congregate must force himself to sit through Pastor John Doe's mundane and emotionless sermons. His most evangelistic invitations are routine and repetitive. Some who listen are simply bored. Some show excitement but more out of feelings of obligation. Some do not believe Pastor John Doe even believes his own message. What is the problem here for Pastor John Doe? Certainly the problem could be a spiritual problem for him but this pastor seems to have lost his sense of urgency.
The intention behind this writing is to reinforce the urgency of the preacher within his proclamation and to look at what this accomplishes from within the pulpit. If those who call themselves preachers of the Word of God truly believe that the only way people can be reconciled with God is by way of proclaiming the truths of God then he ought to take great pains into acknowledging the necessity of gospel proclamation with great urgency from the pulpit. If the preacher does not express urgency from the pulpit then the message preached can give the impression of unimportance to the hearers.
Hell is real. This statement alone ought to be enough to drive the preacher to be a more faithful expositor. He must not only proclaim that there is a coming judgment but he must believe it to be true allowing it to effect his thinking and way of life. As John Piper states, "I must feel the truth of hellthat it exists and is terrible and horrible beyond imaginings forever and ever. 'These things will go away into eternal punishment' (Matt. 25:46). Even if I try to make the 'lake of fire' (Rev. 20:15) or the 'fiery furnace' (Matt. 13:42) a symbol, I am confronted with the terrifying thought that symbols are not overstatements but understatements of reality. Jesus did not choose these pictures to tell us that hell is easier than burning.(1)
Eternity is at stake and a right view of both heaven and hell is a necessity for faithful and urgent preaching. Faithful preachers are to believe the realities of hell when they speak and this impacts both the message and delivery of every sermon. Heaven and hell is of eternal consequence and speaking during the sermon in a way that is cold, casual, indifferent, or flippant does not do justice to the gravity of seriousness that eternity brings. If passion or pathos is not deeply ingrained in the preacher's message, even if his content is good and his life credible, his listeners will conclude that whatever does not grip the preacher's soul may not be particularly important.(2) Arguing that such things as jokes are unwelcome in the pulpit in a way that is lifeless is not the goal but so intensity being gripped by the reality of eternity should have tremendous impact upon the preacher and his preaching.(3) Their preaching [is to be] a life or death matter, for the flood [is] coming, the enemy armies [are] marching, the fires of hell [are]burning. It [is] vital that man hear from God.(4)
The God who is unseen and unapproachable has made himself known by the Word and the preacher is to continue to make himself known by way of the Word. Just as the Scriptures were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name, may it be too that this is the very reason that the preacher proclaims the good news (John 20:31). For what other purpose is there to preach the Word? Preaching with urgency has as its purpose the of instilling of faith. Preaching that is in harmony with Gods' communication plan will make its aim to call for a faith response in the hearer. The purpose of preaching cannot be to promote church causes, . . . moral reform, . . . [or] the preacher's agenda. Whatever the subject of the sermon, the underlying purpose must be to direct the hearer toward confidence in God.(5)
Because of the weight of eternity, the seriousness of hell, and the need for gospel proclamation, the preacher is to gain the burden from the Lord as the Old Testament prophets called it. As John Piper says of himself, I want to give as strong a conviction as words can convey that the work of preaching is to be done in blood-earnestness.(6) Paul himself says too of himself in 1 Corinthians 9:16, For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! The preacher when called to preach is to gain a sacred oughtness that will cause him to proclaim the life-giving gospel with great fervor despite difficulty.(7) Evangelistic preaching is first and foremost . . . driven by internal conviction, a compulsion, even a propulsion.(8)
The eternal destinies of men and women are at stake every time he preaches. . . . He is driven, knowing the difference that obedience to the truth of God can generate. Like Jeremiah, there will be times when the preacher, because of his own humanity, will not want to speak for God; but he will find that God's word is a fire in his bones and he cannot remain silent (Jer.20:9).(9) In order that the preacher live this out in his life he must first remember who he was before being reconciled to God. Before genuine urgency can ever take place within the pulpit the preacher must have spent much time meditating upon a simple question, Do I believe it? If he does, he must preach the gospel with urgency. He must let his heart break for not only the lost outside his church walls but for his immediate hearers. He must not only believe the gospel but he must also believe his text each Sunday is of dire consequence.
The preacher must be eager to preach, and not preach only but to preach the Word, just as Paul throughout the New Testament. Eager to preach defined much of his ministry as he preached before Jews and Gentiles, in jail and in the middle of the Areopagus, at sea and in ship wreck, to Agrippa and Bernice, at Ephesus and in Rome.(10) Paul understood what it meant to be urgent in his preaching. He had a burden of the Lord from the beginning of his ministry until his death. He was, in essence, a possessed man who like Peter before him could not help but speak of what [he] has seen and heard (Acts 4:20).
Beyond the inward compelling, those who lead the flock of God are commanded within the Scriptures to preach the Word of God so that they might lead their hearers to salvation (Matt.10:7; Luke 10:9; Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:46-48; John 20:21). As Paul commands to Timothy to preach the Word within 2 Timothy 4:1, pastors are to preach the gospel if not only for the sake of their hearers but out of obedience to God. All who are in Christ are given the message of the gospel and they must be generous stewards of that gospel.
Aside from urgency effecting the inward man of the preacher, urgency expresses itself outwardly in content of the message and demeanor. Without urgency pastors can gain a too lighthearted demeanor of casualness, carelessness, and a general attitude that expresses to the congregation that nothing of eternal and infinite proportions is being spoken of from the pulpit. With seriousness comes a blood-earnestness that some might quickly associate with unfriendliness. The urgent truth of each message we preach should inflame our personalities and spread with fervor that befits God's powerful Word.(11) With the preaching of the weight of sin and hell comes, as John Piper has put said of it that gladness and gravity . . . woven together in the life and preaching of a pastor in such a way as to sober the careless soul and sweeten the burdens of the saints.(12) He continues, Love for people does not take precious realities lightly, and love for people does not load people with the burden of obedience without providing the strength of joy to help them carry it.(13) In other words, let the realities of hell motivate you but allow the joy of salvation to also motivate.
This burden for urgency does not simply influence the demeanor of the preacher but the sermon preparation itself. This means the sermon's text must first change the preacher while he is in his study. "Not only must you paint them a clear picture of Jesus, but you, as God's preacher, must incarnate the truth you are preaching about the Savior as well. The passion of preaching Christ should emanate from our total being, demonstrating that we are experiencing the Spirit's work in our own hearts as we preach. We must spend more time pleading with God to open the eyes of our listeners and less time worrying about remembering our illustrations, our punch lines, and our transition statements."(14)
If the preacher does not perceive that the congregation is in need of the Word of God specifically then his preaching of that Word is greatly influenced. The urgency to have the gospel preached should cause the preacher not to run to manipulative evangelism techniques or topical preaching that does little treatment with the text but to the preaching and expounding of the Word of God that contains the message of salvation. This talk of urgency is not solely for the purpose of motivating the preacher but its end goal is to further persuade him to the truth of the text and contagiously grip the hearts and souls of the congregation so that they might be more faithful worshipers of God. This urgent conviction influences the purposes of the preacher while in his study.
How this effects is not simply being more evangelistic at the invitation at the end of the sermon but the sermon itself looks differently. Urgency causes preaching to not merely be teaching but through persuasion calls the hearers to faithfulness. The expositor preaches theology, preaches Scripture, preaches context, but these things are never to be separated from the life-changing gospel. In his study and words his life is to be so ingrained with the gospel that he cannot help but relate all things to the good news found in Christ. Simply speaking about the things of God is not enough for him, he is compelled to call for a faith response to the clear gospel account that he details. The Peril of God's wrath, the Promise of God's love, and the Option offered to all men in God's Son. This theme, however it may very in the intensity and explicitness of its declaration, is never missing in a good sermon. This is the primary and ultimate test of whether or not a sermon is biblical, is Christian.(15) As such, the preacher does not simply preach in order to convince people of his convictions regarding secondary issues but he is compelled most to convince people of the central truths of Christianity. No secondary issue, no outside influence, no persecution, no struggle can stop the possessed preacher to keep from speaking the gospel in such a way that his hearers will know who to look to rather than the things of this world.
Preaching with urgency requires a response to that gospel. Whatever text the preacher might have for his sermon, he is to know not merely the content of the text but how that content is capable of changing the lives of those to whom he proclaims. It makes sense that one can hardly expect a sermon to impact people who don't sense the critical nature of the sermon. If you are not moved by the message, they likely will not be moved. Unfortunately, it does not take the audience long to process whether your message is marked 'urgent,' or if it's just another piece of mail to file away.(16)
One component within the sermon whether or not the message is of importance is the aspect of warning. Not to be confused with threat, sincere and humble warning expresses to the congregation an alarm as if to catch their attention. Warning sounds the alarm expressing to the people that there are consequences to not following the message. Without warning there is a false sense of security that softens the message to the point of the congregation perceiving the message to be irrelevant and unimportant. "The importance of preaching with urgency can hardly be overstated. This is clearly not a tactic but rather an orientation of the preacher to his sermon. Urgency cannot be added by the simple inclusion of certain phrases or gestures at well-timed junctures. It is a component of preaching that exists when the preacher himself is captivated by the sermon he is standing up to deliver, and it permeates his delivery with an unfeigned, unrehearsed sincerity."(17)
Such a desire for the pastor to see his hearers follow by faith the Word of God is one that causes the person to be text-driven and being text-driven causes the pastor to these convictions. The text-driven preacher therefore stays on message because he knows that only the Bible gives him the authority to declare the truth that every generation so desperately needs.(18) Urgency in preaching is the result of the preacher being captivated by the need of his specific text for his hearers. Urgency must not only be for evangelistic messages at revivals but for when the whole counsel of God's Word is preached. Is it not that all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16)? Urgency is not only to be apparent for bring people to initial faith but for all preaching to all people, especially believers. The faithful preacher must be urgent in not merely making converts but to make disciples of all nations.
Before the sermon even begins when the message is on the mind of the preacher he must call to God for passion, urgency, and conviction. The preacher must believe the text he will be preaching from matters long before he enters the pulpit because it is likely not to enter during the sermon itself. The need for the message to be preached, regardless of that message as long as itis text-driven, must first convict the preacher of his own need for it before he is every able to show others their own need for it. If you sense a lack of urgency in the days prior to the sermon, then linger in earnest prayer until God grants it. Ask Him to give you His perspective of the text you will present. Plead with Him to show you what's at stake for your congregation if they choose to ignore it.(19) Greg Heisler advices regarding prayer, Ask the Holy Spirit to burn into your heart the burden for lost souls to come to Christ through the preaching of the cross.(20)
As for the introduction to the sermon itself, the sermon's sense of urgency must be apparent from the beginning. Long, drawn-out introductions can at times point people away from the urgency of the message. Rambling and speaking too long within an illustration does not simply cause disinterest but wastes people's time when it could be used encouraging peoplein the gospel. Words cannot be wasted on trivial things. Those opening moments of the sermon are to be designed in such a way as to express to the congregation that this message is of importance. That they lean forward and listen due to the preacher's urgency is the goal. Whether or not they initially believed the message to be of importance, that they know the preacher believes it to be important is a must. Specifically with regard to the conclusion to sermons, sermons with a sense of urgency do more than simply summarize what was stated within the body of the text but is a passionate and concerned last moment call for the hearers to grasp the overarching content of the message. Though obviously having an invitation, the conclusion is an urgent call for all to be obedient to the text preached. This moment ought to reflect the challenge a coach gives moments before a big game.
Romans 10:15 proclaims, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! Preaching matters because God has spoken. God has spoken through his Word and for those he has called to proclaim that Word, they must do so faithfully and with great urgency. No message matters more than the gospel of reconciliation between God and man and the preacher must believe it, he must live it, and he must proclaim it. Urgency in preaching ought to drive the preacher to be bold in his proclamation with nothing to stop him because of his conviction, his conviction that the gospel is worth proclaiming. Urgency is not so much the goal but it is the outworking of the gospel working in the preacher's life. As such, if anything else can be gained from this writing, remember the gospel and proclaim it like you believe it.
(1) John Piper, Brother We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville: B&H, 2002), 114.
(2) Paige Patterson, Ancient Rhetoric: A Model for Text-Driven Preaching, in Text-Driven Preaching, ed. Daniel L. Akin, David L. Allen, and Ned L. Mathews (Nashville; B&H, 2010), 31.
(3) John Piper, Supremacy of God in Preaching (Michigan; Baker Books, 2004), 103.
(4) Wayne V. McDill, The Moment of Truth: A Guide to Effective Sermon Delivery (Nashville,B&H, 1999), 5.
(5) McDill, 15.
(6) Piper, Supremacy of God in Preaching, 54.
(7) Ramesh Richard, Preparing Evangelistic Sermons: A Seven-Step Method for Preaching Savlation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 19.
(9) Patterson, 30-31.
(10) Kyle Haseldon, The Urgency of Preaching (New York; Harper & Row, 1963), 25.
(11) Michael Fabarez, Preaching That Changes Lives, (Nashville; Thomas Nelson, 2002), 103.
(12) Piper, Supremacy of God in Preaching, 55.
(13) Ibid., 56.
(14) Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit's Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery (Nashville; B&H, 2007), Kindle location 838.
(15) Haseldon, 41.
(16) Fabarez, 100.
(18) Ned L. Mathews, The Disciplines of a Text-Driven Preacher, in Text-Driven Preaching, ed. Daniel L. Akin, David L. Allen, and Ned L. Mathews (Nashville; B&H, 2010), 88.
(19) Fabarez, 101.
(20) Heisler, Kindle location 1435.