We’ve looked at a definition of evangelistic preaching, some examples of it, and some reasons for its present rarity. Let’s move on now to the question, “What does evangelistic preaching sound/look/feel like?” We’ll look at four characteristics today, and four more tomorrow.
Evangelistic preaching majors in the present tense. Yes, it deals with biblical data, which is usually in the past tense. But it moves rapidly from the past to the present. These are not sermons that are taken up with large amounts of history, geography and chronology. They may begin there, but move swiftly to the here and the now.
Hearers realize the sermon is about here, about now. It’s connected to the present, it’s relevant, it has impact on them, here and now, in this day and in this age. Martin Lloyd-Jones used to speak of such sermons being in the “urgent tense,” and that really is what should be communicated. We must show that the ancient Word connects with today’s world, and is relevant both to the present and the future.
These sermons should also be personal. Yes, again, we begin with explaining the Word as originally given to the Israelites, the disciples, etc. It starts with “they” and “them.” However, in evangelistic preaching, we move rapidly to “you.”
I’m sure we’ve all sat in congregations, heard sermons about the Philistines, the Israelites, the Corinthians and the Philippians, and wondered, “But what about me? Does this have anything to say to Americans, Scots, Africans, etc?” When teaching God’s people we can spend longer explaining the teaching as it applied to the original hearers. But when we are going after lost souls, we have to move more swiftly, we have to engage more rapidly, we have to show relevance much earlier on.
Also, when we are addressing the unconverted in front of us, we should work especially hard at moving away from reading our notes. When we are appealing, beseeching, arguing and reasoning in a very personal way with unbelievers – let it be eyeball to eyeball, “we beseech you.” Don’t let paper get in the way, distracting, and breaking the eye contact. Let’s really make it personal so that people really grasp “he is speaking to me.”
We can also make it personal by getting inside the minds of our hearers and saying things like this: “Well, you’re sitting there are you are thinking this…aren’t you? But this is what God’s word says.” Or, “You’re here today and you’re hearing this and you are feeling so and so….” And the person sitting there says, “He is thinking about me. He knows how I think, he knows how I tick; he is concerned to address what is going on in my mind.” Again, it just makes it a very personal intimate transaction.
In evangelistic preaching the great aim is persuasion. Much of such sermons will be taken up with Acts2v38-42 type beseeching, pleading, arguing, and reasoning. It’s not just, ”Here’s some facts; take them or leave them,” as if we are just dispassionate conveyors of information. We are here to persuade. People must see our anxiety that they respond to the Gospel in faith and repentance.
To be really persuasive, we must also be passionate. Let people see that we feel this deeply, that we fear for their eternal state, that we are anxious over them, and that we love them deeply. Let that be communicated in our words, but also in our facial expressions, our body language, and our tone.
I’m not arguing for acting here; this should come naturally. Sometimes, before preaching an evangelistic sermon, I spend some time trying to think of lost unbelieving souls in my congregation, and even of particular individuals. I may try to see their faces (often lovely characters by nature – helpful, kind, loving people – but lost). I try to see them dying, going to judgment, and then their faces as they hear the verdict. Then I envision them sinking into the bottomless pit, being burned in eternal fire, going to the company of the devil and his angels. I try to see them there, try to hear them there. Sometimes I might even think of one of my own unsaved family members, just to try and bring home the reality and the enormity of the unsaved’s predicament. If we can really feel it ourselves, we will be passionate in our pleading, in our loving, and in our reasoning.