We need a preaching revival.

I am not advocating for or against revival meetings, where a guest minister or evangelist comes to preach a few days in hopes of reaching the lost and reinvigorating the church. Special revival meetings can be effective, but it is not the preaching revival needed most.

Instead, we need a revival in the preparing and presenting of our own messages. Simply put, we must lift up Christ and His gospel in every single message.
There is some ambiguity about the word gospel in general. People talk about the gospel, but they may mean differing things. My point regarding gospel preaching is that we constantly preach Jesus and Him crucified, gloriously resurrected. Am I advocating Christ highlighted in every sermon? Yes, in every sacred opportunity we stand in front of people proclaiming God’s Word, it must be our goal to lift up Christ and the story of redemption.

This past November, we celebrated the 95th birthday of Billy Graham, who is regarded as the most well-known and well-respected preacher of the 20th century. More than 50 years ago, he shared this story about his preaching:

“Years ago I was in Dallas, Texas, and we had a crowd of 30,000 to 40,000 people. I preached and gave an invitation and practically no one came forward. I left the platform a little bit perplexed and wondering what had happened. A saint from Germany put his arm around me and said, ‘Billy, could I say a word to you?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Son, you didn’t preach the Cross tonight. Your message was good, but you didn’t preach the Cross.’ I went to my room and wept. I said, ‘Oh, God, so help me, there will never be a sermon that I preach unless the Cross is central.'”

Certainly the context of Billy Graham’s ministry is different than most of ours; however, if he considers it a bad idea to ignore Christ and the gospel message in preaching, then I suggest we learn something from him.

The stakes are extremely high. Many of our churches are shrinking. My own faith family, Southern Baptist, is now baptizing fewer people each year than any time since Truman defeated Dewey or the invention of credit cards. Most of us having this difficult discussion about declining numbers are ministers; therefore, we must first begin with a hard look at ourselves, including our preaching.

For quite a while, I have had this concern about ministers failing to preach Jesus or the gospel. April 2013, I tested my hypothesis. I chose 10 of the better-known Baptist preachers and listened to their latest sermons. I was careful to do a cross section sample based on age, experience and size of their churches. I documented each time a basic tenet of the gospel story was explained and every mention of the name of Jesus.

Although this is anecdotal evidence, the results were disheartening. Almost half of the sermons I heard by these popular preachers did not explain the gospel—at all. Yes, nearly half did not illuminate or share any basic tenet of the gospel. Worse, one-third of the messages did not mention the name of Christ. It is hard to imagine that among these accomplished preachers, one-third would fail to mention the name of Jesus in the sermon. Many of these messages could have been preached verbatim for religious groups who deny Christ as Savior and would have been just as well received. Trust me: If you are teaching or preaching a message that would not have you kicked out of a Jewish synagogue or Muslim mosque, then you are not doing it right.

The sermons I listened to had thousands in attendance, including many who may not know Christ. Given this could be the last sermon some ever heard, I was left thinking, “What a wasted opportunity.”

I readily admit I have much to learn about preaching. It remains a deep mystery to be about how God uses our meager words to impact people for conversion and discipleship. Yet God moves in preaching as we proclaim His truth. Thankfully, in the mystery of preaching we have been left with clear directions: Primarily the Bible commands us to preach Christ and His gospel. Paul gives this admonition to preach the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 and even defines the gospel: “Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it…For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to Scripture.”

Paul also told the Corinthian church, “When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. For I didn’t think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). Paul was one of the most brilliant minds of his time, but his message of Christ never wavered. Today, can you imagine Paul or Peter ever standing in front of a crowd and not preaching Christ? Although not many of us have much in common with these great heroes, we have the same calling: to proclaim Christ.

The chief problem with many of our sermons is not a shortage of oratorical skill, lack of education or inadequate time to preach. The problem is the failure of preaching Christ.

The dual authorship of the Bible, God and man, demands us to ask two foundational questions about every text. First, what is the human author communicating? Second, what is the divine Author communicating? The human author communicates different things, all of which are relevant and inspired by God. The Divine Communicator’s intent always involves this simple notion: to declare the glorious gospel of redemption found in Christ. One preacher said this about the divine authorship of the Bible, “The Bible is one big hymn Book…It is a book about Him (Christ).”

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Charles Spurgeon’s exhortations to fellow preachers was to avoid a Christless sermon. Notice his piercing words: “The Spirit of God bears no witness to Christless sermons. Leave Jesus out of your preaching, and the Holy Spirit will never come upon you. Why should He? Has He not come on purpose that He may testify of Christ? Did not Jesus say, ‘He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you’? Yes, the subject was Christ, and nothing but Christ, and such is the teaching which the Spirit of God will own. Be it ours never to wander from this central point: May we determine to know nothing among men but Christ and His cross.”

One great 20th century preacher Vance Havner rightly said, “We need men of the cross, with the message of the cross, bearing the marks of the cross.” I believe most of the faithful preachers of the past have modeled for us that our message must be Christ and Him crucified.

Christ promised that when He is lifted up He draws people to Himself. Preaching Christ and the gospel is the only thing that will bring the revival for which we long.

Doug Mize is the minister of Discipleship and Evangelism at First Baptist Church of Taylors, South Carolina.

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