Lloyd-Jones on the Efficacy of Preaching Today

In Preaching and Preachers, Dr Lloyd-Jones makes the case that the mainspring of the church's ministry should be Biblical preaching—preaching that expounds the meaning of the Biblical text in the assembled community.

The main objection to preaching in our time, however, is a pragmatic one. It is: "They will not come! People today simply will not come out to hear preaching." In our time a whole body of work has grown up around the distinction between "attractional" ministry versus "incarnational" ministry. The attractional model consists of Christians bringing people in to hear the gospel preached inside the church walls. The incarnational model is dispersing and going out beyond the walls of the church to love and serve in the community and talk to people about the gospel on their own turf. (See Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, The Shape of Things To Come.)

We cannot treat this whole debate here. One obvious response to it is that it is quite possible to use both sets of methods to reach people, though there is more to the argument than a discussion of method. People who are dedicated to the incarnational model are anti-institutional, sometimes naively so. They not only eschew buildings but strong, central leaders, organization, and large-scale gatherings. But without some institutionalization there is no permanence or stability. (And indeed, the knock on churches in the incarnational model is that they are tiny and don't last more than a few years.) However, people dedicated in the American context to the attractional church can pander to our culture's consumerism, attracting people through lots of polished programs which provide the "customer" with an enticing selection of choices to meet felt needs.

For our purposes we should observe that in the incarnational model, preaching is sometimes re-engineered into non-didactic, dialogical, non-authoritative talks. And so it seems that to talk of the "primacy of preaching" is to vote de facto for an attractional model of the church. However, the preaching that Lloyd-Jones urged and practiced does not fit into the consumer-oriented seeker church model either. His sermons were very theological, serious, and demanding.

Nevertheless, in the end, if you make preaching central to your ministry, you are indeed expecting that the public ministry of the Word will be attractive and draw people in. At this point the Doctor takes the main objection—"they won't come"—head on. He says bluntly, "The answer is that they will come, and that they do come…" Now the Doctor was speaking of his own ministry at Westminster Chapel in central London after World War II. Church attendance throughout Europe plunged after the war, for a mixture of reasons. In that situation, he began preaching his long, theological, expositional sermons, and slowly the huge auditorium filled. His evening services were twice the size of the morning services, since people from all over London came to bring their non-Christian friends. I dare say that something similar happened to us in New York City over the past two decades, and in an analogous context.

So preaching does still "work"—they will come, but notice the Doctor's makes two qualifications to this statement. We will look at them in the next post.