Background: This post is part 4 of an essay called “Preachers and Leaders”. I am seeking to demonstrate that preaching sermons should be understood as an act of responsible congregational shepherd-leadership. I argue that preaching is the public component of the speech of a congregational shepherd-leader to the congregation under his care, by which he ensures that the truth handed down in the Scriptures is learned and obeyed by that congregation, in light of the congregation’s particular circumstances.
In this essay, I am responding to a recent trend to separate preaching from congregational leadership, which I believe is biblically and historically unwarranted. One example of this trend appears in recent debates among “complementarians” about women and preaching–hence the essay has been published in the book Women, Sermons and the Bible: Essays Interacting with John Dickson’s Hearing Her Voice (Peter G. Bolt and Tony Payne, eds., Sydney: Matthias Media, 2014). However, the issues addressed in the essay are broader than the particular debate about gender. My essay appears here with the kind permission of the publisher.
Here are the sections of the essay which appear on the site so far:
Preaching and congregational leadership today
Now, as then, preaching should be understood as the public component of the speech of a congregational leader to a congregation under his care, by which he ensures that the congregation learns, obeys and holds on to the truth of God’s word. A congregational leader leads his congregation by preaching; conversely, preaching is the key public expression of a congregational leader’s role.
As we have seen, some recent authors wish to reconcile the practice of women preaching with a complementarian framework. In doing so, they have claimed that the act of preaching carries little or no relevant authority, and is thus quite different from the ‘teaching’ envisaged in the New Testament (especially in 1 Timothy 2:12). Yet this claim is inconsistent with the New Testament witness and with key figures in church history. Preaching, in itself, is an act of congregational leadership. Preaching therefore always involves significant dimensions of responsibility and authority. Anyone who engages in the preaching role—whether lay or ordained, regular or occasional—is engaging in an act of congregational leadership. Therefore preaching shouldn’t ever be separated from questions of relationship, gender and authority. Indeed, it is in the very act of preaching—and in our decisions about who should preach—that our central convictions about the nature of Christian authority and leadership will be expressed and displayed most clearly.
We have seen how the New Testament bears witness to the importance of responsible and authoritative ‘shepherd-speech’ by congregational leaders, and that it employs a range of ‘speech’ words to describe this activity. The word ‘teach’ in the Pastoral Epistles, including in 1 Timothy 2:12, is an important one of these terms, focusing on how congregational leaders instruct and inform their people so that sound doctrine is understood, learned and obeyed.
We have also seen how key figures throughout the history of the church have emphasized the importance of preaching as the public means by which shepherds lead their sheep. These historical figures frequently used the language of ‘teaching’ with reference to this public preaching ministry—often in explicit dependence on the language of the Pastoral Epistles. The relative availability of the Scriptures throughout history makes little difference to the need for shepherd-leaders to preach and teach those Scriptures. No matter how many Bibles our congregations or the individuals within them own, we still need godly, responsible leaders who preserve the truth through private instruction and public preaching.
There is, of course, a vital place for more general encouragement and mutual exhortation in congregational life. There are various kinds of ‘ministries of the word’ in which Christian brothers and sisters are called mutually to encourage one another (e.g. Col 3:16; Eph 4:15-16; 1 Corinthians 11-14; Heb 3:12-13, 10:24-25).1 The voices of men and women, young and old, should ring amongst us with God’s word, and should do so more and more. As we encourage this, however, we should not neglect or undermine the significance of the public preaching ministry. Alongside personal admonition and exhortation, preaching is the key means by which a congregational leader ensures that the apostolic truth is guarded within individual congregations. Preaching, in other words, cannot be separated from congregational leadership. A congregational leader leads by preaching; conversely, preaching is the public enactment of congregational leadership.
Through this ministry, we pray, God by his Spirit and his word of grace will continue to draw many to himself, building us up and bringing us into the inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:32).
This post is part 4 of a series:
- cf. P Adam, Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching (IVP, Leicester, 1996), 75-6; C Marshall and T Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything (Matthias Media, Kingsford, Sydney, 2009), 44-59 ↩