I am always interested to read a different definition of preaching. It is helpful to ponder what it is we do, and definitions can help with that pondering. So here’s a definition:
The ministry of the word is stewarding and heralding God’s word in such a way that people encounter God through his word.
This is Jason Meyer’s thesis in his book Preaching: A Biblical Theology. Let’s probe it a bit, and I think you will find it to be a helpful definition.
Stewarding – The preacher does not generate the message. It is a stewardship entrusted to us by God. It is His word, His revelation, His message, etc. Our task is to faithfully handle the Bible as we faithfully steward that trust. I like the image here. Many preachers treat the Bible as if it is merely a source book of ideas or an interesting data dump that we can mine for sporadic treasures.
Stewardship points to the sacred entrustment and to the value of the word of God. Let’s be good stewards of a very precious trust—in how we handle it, in how we first respond to it (since we are lead-responders), in how we prepare to communicate it to others.
Heralding – The preacher is a representative who speaks. Meyer points to the wartime imagery of a herald who conveys a message with the authority of the king whose message he brings. Inasmuch as he heralds accurately, he heralds authoritatively, but it is not his own authority. So our task is to fearlessly herald the message we’ve been entrusted with as stewards.
Again, I like some of the limits implied here. We are not called to offer friendly suggestion or polite tips; we are called to herald God’s message boldly and courageously. Some will respond to that message positively, others antagonistically, but our task is not to please everyone, even while trying to win everyone. It does take courage to faithfully handle and fearlessly herald God’s word.
At the same time, I am slightly hesitant to restrict the imagery here to military proclamation, for that implies something about the Person we represent. There is so much more to the Bible’s message than kingly authority and military conquest over sin, death and Satan.
I am only at the start of Meyer’s book, but I am thankful for the good work he has done so far. A Bible-wide theology of the ministry of the word ... this is something we should all be doing all the time.
I am glad this element is included. Too often preaching definitions settle for proclamation of principles and propositions and truths. But the ministry of the word should result in personal encounter with a personal God. Meyer rightly distinguishes his intent here from Blackaby’s intent in his term “experiencing God.”
Blackaby’s position is considered only a positive transformation, but Meyer rightly notes that an encounter with God can have positive or negative response. He doesn’t probe Blackaby’s position, so I won’t add too much, except to say that encountering the Person of God is not about a mystical experience that cannot be described. God is a communicative God who meets us in His Word rather than in a realm “beyond words,” so we should be wary of teaching that treats the Bible only as a stepping stone or an entry point into an experience.
As Meyer points out, the same message will be the aroma of Christ to God ... life to some, stench of death to others. Some will find biblical preaching profoundly offensive (hence we need the courage to herald, rather than trying to please everyone). But again, this is where I find myself nodding along with Meyer while pondering the places he hasn’t gone yet. The emphasis in the early chapters is on encountering God reverently. The focus is on trembling at the word of God. Don’t get me wrong, we should be trembling and reverent, but there is more here than the limitations of militaristic heralding can convey.
What is profoundly offensive to some humans is not just the authority and judgment of God that holds them culpable and condemned. It is also the tender other-centeredness of the relationship between Christ and His Father. The humility and self-giving of God is offensive to a humanity hell-bent on self-reliance and personal achievement—being “like God” if you will, albeit nothing like the true God! Feuerbach referred to the human tendency to project our own ego on the clouds and call that God. This is exactly why the revelation of the Triune God is so offensive to many.
Yet at the same time it is that self-giving otherness of God that is so delightful and sweet smelling to those who are being saved. It is not just that the King is victorious and I bow reverently in His presence. It is also that the King picks me up, embraces me and brings me fully into the fellowship and love He shares with His Father.
In true biblical preaching we encounter the person of God reverently, and we encounter the persons of God delightedly ... captivated by the wonder of being united to the Son by the Spirit as his bride, crying Abba by the Spirit to the Father as His child, the friend of God and thus fully embraced in the relationship of the Trinity!