Yesterday I defined evangelistic preaching as preaching that expounds God’s Word (it is expository) with the primary aim of the conversion of lost souls (rather than the instruction of God’s people). I also said that while I welcomed the upsurge in “consecutive expository preaching,” I was concerned at the increasing rarity of “converting evangelistic preaching.” It used to be much more common. Even the great expository preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, made sure that at least one sermon every Sunday was directed primarily to the unsaved in his congregation. In the Scottish Highlands, it was traditional to preach a teaching sermon, mainly addressed to Christians, on Sunday morning, while Sunday evening was given to evangelistic preaching addressed to the unsaved (when more attended). But most reformed churches have no such distinction today. Both morning and evening sermons tend to be primarily teaching sermons for God’s people. Why is this so? That’s the question I want to address today.

The Preacher 
We start by pointing a finger at ourselves. Many of us have to admit that we much prefer to be teachers than pleaders. It’s easier to engage in explanation than application. It’s more socially acceptable, it’s more dignified and respectable to be engaged in calm reasoning and deduction, rather than in anxious weeping and beseeching. I think we’d all have to admit that it is easier emotionally and socially to be teachers than evangelists. And that prejudice, that bias, influences our choice of text and the way we preach our texts.

In addition to our prejudice, there’s also our pragmatism. Let’s get people in first. Get them used to our church. Then we will become more “evangelistic.” After all we don’t want to put them off by telling them they are sinners who need a Savior; or that they must abandon their own works and trust in Christ’s grace alone; or that without faith in Christ they will be punished forever in hell, etc. Surely it’s much wiser to begin more slowly, more carefully, more diplomatically; and then once they are in a while, we can begin to be a bit more confrontational and demanding. But then more new faces appear, and so the pragmatic cycle begins again.

Presumption also lurks in the background of many preachers’ minds. As Carine commented yesterday, some pastors dangerously presume that their hearers are already saved. Assuming that all is well with their souls, they teach, instruct, and give guidance on how to live the Christian life. They may preach on the Christian view of culture, sport, business, politics, family, etc., but rarely preach for conversion.

The Congregation 
When we preach evangelistic sermons, the mature Christians in our congregations, those we often lean on for our encouragement and strength, might feel (or even say), “Well there wasn’t much for me in that sermon…that’s more like milk for babies than meat for the mature.” They are maybe less than enthusiastic about simple preaching of the Gospel to lost sinners. They may not respond so appreciatively as they do to our epic sermons on Romans. That lack of response can impact what we preach and how we preach.

Also, we might not have many unconverted people in front of us. My first congregation had only 20-30 people. Sometimes there were maybe only 3-5 unconverted hearers in an evening service. It’s a lot harder to preach an evangelistic sermon in these circumstances, because everyone knows to whom you are directing your warning, wooing, and pleading words. Teaching messages are so much more comfortable than convicting messages – both to preach and to hear. That’s especially true if our few unconverted hearers are very “moral” or “churchy” people.

There may also be in our congregation those who might view evangelistic preaching with a suspicious eye, especially if they come from a hyper-Calvinistic stream of Christian upbringing. Maybe others have come out of Arminian easy-believism, hyper-emotionalism, and decisionism, and react against any kind of emotional appeal to the unsaved. We don’t want to offend these people, we want to keep them on our side, and so again perhaps we hold back from regular, full-throated evangelistic preaching.

The World
We are not pluralistic. We believe, surely, in the exclusive claims of Christ. That’s what we swear to, sign up to, and state at our ordinations. But, we live in such a pluralistic, many-ways-to-God world, that it’s extremely difficult not to be influenced by that, even subconsciously. Maybe, in the back of many pastors’ minds, the sharp edge of Gospel exclusivity has been blunted by worldly influence. They may not deny that Christ is the only way to heaven, and they may not preach many-ways-to-God. But they do not keep the believer/unbeliever distinction or the heaven/hell contrast constantly and vividly before their minds. And of course that’s going to affect their preaching – both its content and tone. The real test of incipient pluralism is, “How do we really view the unconverted?” Is our first thought when we see them, “These precious souls are hell-bound, without Christ, lost, under the wrath of God, however religious they may be?” I’m deeply afraid that a kind of incipient, subtle, often unnoticed pluralism has blunted the sharp edge of evangelistic preaching.

The Devil
Then, of course, there is our great enemy, the devil. If there’s any kind of preaching that has been more successful in stealing captives from him and claiming them for the Lord, it is passionate evangelistic preaching. No weapon in the Gospel armory has been so effective in rescuing souls. Of course, he is going to fight it, and he is going to supply every excuse not to preach in an evangelistic way.

Tomorrow I will look at a number of reasons for engaging in evangelistic preaching.

  • Danny Hyde

    Good post, David. I actually follow the reverse pattern of Lloyd-Jones since out here in So Cal it’s unheard of to have morning and evening services! Unbelievers, inquirers, and visitors almost exclusively come in the morning. So, my morning expository sermon is the one that always focuses heavily on Christ, and repentance and faith in him. In the evening we usually have only our own members so that’s when I preach my doctrinal sermons.Regardless, I’ve always told my Seminary student interns that you every Lord’s Day they need on “free offer of the gospel sermon” as I call it.Danny

  • Bill Pols

    Another objection to such evangelistic preaching is that it is wrong to address the congregation of the Lord in the worship service as if you were addressing unbelievers. I disagree that it is wrong to address unbelievers regularly in preaching, but I am sympathetic to the concern that entire sermons should not be regularly aimed at unbelievers when the congregation of God’s people are gathered for worship.

  • djthomas73

    Dr. Murry-Hey I just kind of stumbled on your blog and I find it interesting and quite awesome that you have a huge heart for evangelism. I do as well. I work with college students as a campus minister. I want to say first that I have not completed a seminary degree though I have taken some classes and hope to finish a degree someday! So I really want to take a learners posture here. Is it possible that there does not have to be a dichotomy between preaching to believers and unbelievers? We have non Christians walk into our meetings every week and are often faced with this question. I may be wrong (and that is why I’m asking ) but is it possible that what both believers and unbelievers need most deeply is the Gospel? So that our preaching would be hitting at the core of the fallen condition of men and women for both believers and non-believers. Certainly the application would be different. For example if you have never placed your trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and repented that would be the first step. But for believers our tendency to trust in our works as what makes us feel good about ourselves or our tendency to trust in our job as our provider instead of a sovereign God. Isn’t the gospel the thing that both groups need? If that is true should we be crafting messages that both deeply call non-believers to trust in Jesus and repent as well as believers to …trust in Jesus and repent. Again I’m trying to learn so I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks,Dave Thomas

  • djthomas73

    I do like that you are tackling these issues by the way!!

  • Ian Lowe

    I also just stumbled across your blog and wanted to say how much I appreciate your thoughts. I am a preacher and am greatly concerned about the lack of evangelistic preaching today. I note that Iain Murray wrote an article that expressed similar thoughts in a recent Banner of Truth magazine. He was expressing concern about there is little preaching other than consecutive expository preaching and I think many are thinking the same thing.In my own experience I have found the issue of presumption being one of the great dangers facing preachers. I have learned that even when there is a very small congregation that there is invariably someone there who doesn’t know the Lord.Thanks again for your encoruaging blog. Looking forward to returning

  • David Murray

    Yes, Danny, on the Scottish mainland also, the majority of unconverted come out in the morning. I’m so thankful for your advice to your interns.I agree with you Dave. Christians need the Gospel too. See my post of April 28. You’re right, even believers can start trusting in themselves again (Galatians!). When I am preaching evangelistic sermons to the unsaved, I will often make an application to Christians.Ian, yes, I read that article by Iain a few weeks ago. I could not agree more with him. I’m hoping that the BOT will post that important article online.

  • Alan Kendall

    What happened to mature teaching? Most small denominations have evangelistic revivals where they invite Evangelists or Pastors but do not accept teachers except in Sunday School.