This article discusses the role of the elder in regard to the tasks of overseeing, evaluating, and encouraging the preaching of the Word. It explains that the priority in evaluating sermons is whether the text itself was preached.

Source: The Outlook, 1994. 3 pages.

Elders and Good Preaching

The Belgic Confession, one of the creeds of the church of which I am a pastor, says that you can identify a true church (a Biblical church as opposed to one contrary to God's Word and God's purpose) by looking for certain evidences, certain qualifying marks. All of them boil down of course, to the Bible. (A true church lives according to God's Word.) The Belgic Confession breaks down the marks into three:

  1. the Word is purely preached;
  2. the sac­raments are properly administered; and
  3. church discipline is adminis­tered in punishing of sin.

I'd like to examin­e the role of elders and deacons in regard to each of these marks.

The first mark or evidence of a Bib­lically vital church is that it is a church that preaches God's Word faithfully. Now that means several things in a very objective sense. Clearly, faithful preaching means that the content of the preaching is faithful to the content of the Scriptures. Again, faithful preaching means that the structure or format of the preaching reflects the actual text of Scripture, so that God's people learn the Biblical basis for the instruction and exhortation. Finally, faithful preaching requires that the purpose of the preaching be consistent with the purpose of the Scriptural text. (You may have heard the old yarn about the dangers of reading the Bible out-of-context? The preacher an­nounced his texts for the morning: "Judas went out and hanged himself" and "Go, do thou likewise." With a book as large as the Bible, you can almost make it say anything you want it to say!)

But, having said all that, I have really only said some things about preaching in a generic sort of way. I have not addressed those men whom God has given the church as overseers (and that means oversight also over the preaching), about their re­sponsibilities in this matter. And that's necessary, since most elders have a vague sense in their bellies that they ought to be involved in some way in maintaining good preaching in their church, but really are hesitant to talk to the preacher about it (after all, he's been through seminary!). I want to challenge the elders of the church to get serious about improv­ing and maintaining faithful preach­ing of the Word in the local church.

You Can and You Must!🔗

The starting point is really nothing more than a word of encouragement; good elders already know good preaching when they hear it, prob­ably better than preachers do. After all, they have heard far more sermons than most preachers ever do, and they have learned what communicates effectively. They also know what doesn't. So, don't be intimidated by the duty to listen critically to a man who is "professionally trained." You are competent to do the work; and Acts 20 and 1 Timothy 3 lay upon you the duty of such oversight. Be­sides, preachers can't always be trusted to be objective. They have a vested interest in defending their ef­forts. I've told my wife on many occasions, that I truly want to hear her reactions to my sermons. But I have also told her not to give me those reactions until Tuesday, lest I get overly defensive and bite her head off!

Evaluating Sermons🔗

So often, sermon evaluations be­come long, laborious and overly tech­nical. I am reminded of the sermon evaluation of a young man being ex­amined for ordination. The evalua­tion was given by several preachers. They read their written manuscript, impressing all present with their ex­pertise and oratory. One old elder brought it all down to earth with a simple question, directed to the "ex­perts": "I don't know what you just said. I just want to know, did he preach the text?"

Right on! That's the bottom line isn't it? When all is said and done, it is not the oratory, the stylistic flour­ishes, even the liturgical sensitivity of the preacher that matters. It is whether or not he opened up the text of the Bible. Always remember that great speeches have been given from pul­pits. That doesn't make them ser­mons.

And, the old elder made another point with his question, one that he probably didn't even intend. Good preaching communicates simply, so that everyone understands just what was said. If, after hearing a sermon, you're not sure of the point, you have a problem! If the elders of the church don't get the point, the members won't, the babes in Christ won't, and the unconverted certainly won't. Simple and effective communication might not impress the scholarly among us, but it will most certainly gratify the people of God. Elders will do well to remember what preachers ought never to forget: the 3 AM text! If your wife pokes you in the ribs on Sunday morning at 3:00 AM and asks, "Quick, in one sentence, what is the point of your sermon this morning?" you had better be able to tell her!

Communicating Your Evaluation🔗

But, having challenged you to evaluate both the "opening up of the text" and the effectiveness of the com­munication, you may be wondering how you get all this across to your preacher. There are several ways. Some churches have a committee of several elders who meet regularly with the preaching pastor, and who dis­cuss, among other things, the effec­tiveness of his preaching and teach­ing. Some pastors actively seek official input at elder's meetings. One brave pastor I know circulated an ex­tensive form among all elders seeking comprehensive input about his ser­monic style, application, textual faith­fulness, etc. The feedback generated a renewed commitment to the prior­ity of sermon preparation in his min­istry. Praise God!

Which method works best in your church? I don't know. Any of the above can be effective if the elders are honest. I will say however, that if your church has never made such evaluation a part of the official el­ders' meetings, it might be a bit threat­ening to dump it on the pastor with­out discussing the process first. Let him know your commitment is to the health of the church, and toward the preserving and improving of all that advances that health. Perhaps begin with a committee of 2 or 3 elders who meet privately with him every quar­ter. But do the work!

The Elders and Sermon Planning🔗

In addition to evaluating the preacher's sermons, elders can play an important part in planning for the preaching ministry of the church. Af­ter all, elders are charged with spiritual oversight and with the defense of the flock. They should know full well what the major issues are that should be addressed in the pulpit.

An example might help. I usually plan my preaching schedule several months in advance. Recently, I sub­mitted to the elders a plan for several series of sermons I wanted to develop, and preach. The plan aimed at lay­ing a strong Biblical foundation for the Christian home, something we had previously agreed was urgent in our extremely youthful congregation. I would preach one series on Biblical marriage, another on Biblical stew­ardship and giving, and a third on Biblical principles for nurturing chil­dren in Christ. Didn't take long after distributing the plan before one of the elders observed that there was noth­ing in the series addressed to the unique needs of the Christian homes of single people! And we have a grow­ing number of them here in North Dallas. He was right, and the plan was amended.

Perhaps you don't share such plans in your elders meetings. This might encourage you to begin. Even if you don't, the elders of the church must feel free to challenge the pastor to address urgent issues facing the people they shepherd daily. If your people are being eaten alive by materialism, and you are hearing a steady diet of appeals for personal evangelism from the pulpit, it's time for a change of diet! The health of the church is at stake.

"Doers of the Word"🔗

Remember Jesus' challenge not to be merely hearers of the Word but to be doers of the Word? With those words, I lay upon you one final chal­lenge. Elders must not only cast their eye on the preacher when laboring to keep the church faithful to the Word. They must also look carefully at the hearers. Sometimes the preacher is faithful, but the people of God are stubborn, complaining, unresponsive. In such a case, the elder's duty to advance Biblical preaching requires a conversation with members about how they listen... and whether or not they hear and obey. Often, in an age characterized by TV and its entertain­ment approach, people expect to be entertained in church. More impor­tantly for my argument, such expec­tations also limit the authority people are willing to grant to the preaching. TV can be turned off; you don't have to listen; you don't have to buy. But faithful preaching is different. You don't get a vote. God's Word stands. It must be obeyed. Life must be trans­formed by it.

One final word. Elders can do well by teaching the youth of the church how to listen to preaching. Make the teens hand in sermon notes on two sermons per month. It will do them wonders, and the results will really get the preacher's attention. ("That's what they heard?! Oh, my...")

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