Volume 35 | Number 6 | November/December 2007

Inglés Español

Preaching? Or Counseling? Which Will it Be?
Reprint—May 1985

By Dr. O. Talmadge Spence

In my heavy schedule of travel on preaching missions, I am amazed at a certain common attitude which I find among preachers. I am hearing more pastors tell me that they wish they did not have to go to their pulpits to deal with their church people. They wish they could perform their ministry in their study on a one-to-one basis of instruction from the Word of God.

Also, I am hearing more and more preachers declare that they have adopted Expository Preaching almost exclusively when they do enter the pulpit. The reason given is that this particular method of preaching keeps them from being influenced by the problems of their church or dealing with the sins of their people on a personal basis through their pulpits.

This double expression has been coming to me in my travels for about ten years, and I have been frankly amazed at the growing number of pastors who have taken this attitude in their pulpit preaching. Most of these men I really respect, and yet I do not quite understand their manner and method in this regard. (Be assured of the fact that this author acknowledges that he does not know who is saved, and he does not purport to know the motive of any man in the matter of his professed Christian life and ministry.) So, without condemning their personal salvation in Christ Jesus or judging the motive of their individual hearts, I want to address these two expressions. I trust that I shall do this, having been led of the Holy Spirit in it all.

First, the switch from the public church pulpit to private church study is rather new in church history. The prophet and his public preaching follow the oldest pattern of communicating truth in the Bible. Undoubtedly, this new concept has flourished because of the seeming importance of psychology that has made heavy inroads into modern Christianity. Although there is definitely an increase over the past ten years in the practical application of psychology in pastoral counseling, as well as an influential proliferation of the methods of psychology in biblical application, I think there is a greater reason for this change from the pulpit to the study for instruction to others. Personally, I do not share the zeal for the increased mood towards modern psychology in the ministry as possibly other ministers do, although I took quite a number of such courses on the undergraduate and graduate levels. I think we are talking about a world of thought which is based on modern myths, and I do not believe methodology actually changes hearts and lives. However, I fear an even greater danger lurks underneath this switch from preaching to counseling. Could it be that we are being conquered by the fear of saying too many things in the pulpit that might be offensive to some, and that the counseling seems more compassionate or less pointed? Oh, I am sure that I need true compassion from God, but not studied psychology for the sake of success.

I dare say that Fundamentalists and Evangelicals are less militant and plain than they were ten years ago, although they continue to have the reputation of their militancy which they did have twenty years ago. In reality, Fundamentalists have become quite suave and pragmatic. Each one of the three World Congresses of Fundamentalism of which I have been privileged to attend and participate has become less militant. At least, that is my opinion. We have approached a time in Fundamentalism when we are no longer calling the names of certain personalities that we did so strongly call before. To some extent this may be good, if the previous rendering was only an extreme, hateful act rather than being led of the Holy Spirit. But if it was extreme, we can expect the present swing of the pendulum to be an equal extreme as well. Some of the most militant Fundamentalists that I have known in the past are now telling me that they have adopted a new posture in this matter and will not call names for fear of bringing confusion among the young ministers. I am reminded of C. H. Spurgeon, who was so very strong in his church pulpit but weak in taking a direct stand in training his ministers. And in the latter, he failed considerably.

But I must come back to this matter of pastoral counseling.

Equally involved is the new emphasis being placed upon Expository Preaching whenever the pulpit is the order of the day for pastors. I am being told that this method of presenting the contexts of the Bible in a systematic order keeps the pew from thinking that the preaching is addressed to them personally. Expository Preaching, too, is probably a compassionate thought in the matter of pastoral theology. Some also include the belief that Textual Preaching is weak and often sidetracks from the context, and that it is now proved that Expository Preaching is the best method of preaching for us to follow.

Lest we forget, Textual Preaching was the most prominent method a century ago and during the birth of Fundamentalism, and yet there was not only Evangelism in the air but also Revivalism in the heart. The latter is missing in our own generation amidst reputed success in Evangelism.

But when we adopt a singular method of preaching, are we not closing many doors for the Holy Spirit to work and direct both preacher and pew in the purpose which could be in the appointment from heaven? Jonathan Edwards' great sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God," came from a singular text. Can we arbitrarily say that a certain method of preaching is the best simply because we have our own reason for preaching it that way in relationship to the pew? Dare I go a step further in this delicate matter? Could it be that we have adopted the almost exclusive method of Expository Preaching to avoid a confrontation with the souls of men in the pew? Have we, in our sincere hope for compassion for those same souls, in wanting to handle them with care, privately, gone too far by actually closing a pulpit-door when public presentations of pointed truths are desperately needed so that all, both those who observe and those who are involved, can profit when a sin or weakness is manifest in the church we pastor? I do not believe that the magic lies in the method of the sermon any more than in the methodology of Neo-Evangelicalism, generally practiced. Method is method no matter where you find it. Most of them are only pragmatic, without Holy Ghost Power.

Biblical Theology is that larger spectrum in the methodology of Bible study and preaching where we view a truth in its unfolding throughout the Bible and down through history. Could this not be used with equal effectiveness especially in our time when the overlapping of the ages is upon us? Pulpit preaching must affect both our personal lives and our prophetical end as we endeavor to be "perfect in our generation" (Genesis 6:9). I know churches where Expository Preaching is regularly rendered week in and week out, and the pew is fat with the context and the exegesis; yet they do not see the relationship between their own hearts and lives with the biblical presentation. Somehow or other, the Text, Exposition, and Biblical Theology needed for our time do not get through to our soul in a personal matter of conviction. I fear we could move into a position where the pew is fat with sterile, static, and stagnant truth, if you will understand the way in which I mean this. Of course, truth is not sterile or stagnant within itself; but if the soil is bad, it will not matter who is the Sower and how excellent the Seed might be. Should we not seek God's face for a direct administration of the Word of God from the pulpit? I mean, such a blessed confrontation with the pew that when the preacher concludes the sermon, you could hear their hearts ring like a large bell—"the preacher means me; he means me." Is this offensive? Of course, it would be offensive if we preach with a hateful heart and a mean spirit. But could we, as preachers, get down on our face before God and pray through about our preaching and come up with a golden spirit and lower the boom of sky-blue truth upon the souls we love who are drifting away from God? We must preach in honesty to the needs and sins of the saints, so the sinners will respect our preaching plain to them. I am becoming more and more aware of a certain lineage of Scripture that demands our responsibility to preach directly to the pew without the psychological dodging of their sins. This is not said to be mean, but so that the pew will know we mean it.

Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear (I Timothy 5:20).

And again he [Jesus] stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more (John 7:8-11).

It is most interesting to me that in this particular incident, Jesus pled for the sinner while attacking the reputed righteous men. What Jesus really wrote on the ground, we may never know, but what the public pulpit did that day was to bring a direct confrontation with the audience; and the words in the sand were personal and pointed. Beginning with the "eldest," he was the first to go. But that "last" man must have been a rascal for him to stay around so long with such a personal sermon. It took much longer for the public sermon to get through to his "conscience" until he, like the rest of them, could say, "He means me; Jesus means me."

We cannot afford, in these days of apostasy, to adopt any method of preaching, whether public pulpit or private counsel, that would obscure the burden God has laid upon our hearts as the pastor-teacher of our dear people. Whether Textual, Expository, or Biblical Theology, we should preach directly led of the Holy Spirit, not intending by any form of psychology to soften the need of truth among our people. We should not deliberately attack and bruise our people just to have them leave the audience wounded unduly; but it would be just as wrong to prevent their hearing the anathema of God upon their sin as it would be to attack them in a one-sided, gunshot, public sermon. The homiletical method of the sermon has no power of itself within itself to bring people to repentance and growth and victory. It is only the Word of God, the Sword drawn naked before the people, and the power of the Holy Spirit that shall save sinners' souls and bring saints from their backslidings anyway.

"Dear God: help me to preach what my people need in spite of my prepared homiletical outline. In Jesus' Name, Amen."