Preaching and Mission Mobilization
BY MAX FERNANDEZ
Is the church’s mission connected to the church’s conviction about preaching? I say, “Yes!” The following piece was originally written as a position paper to expose the biblical connection between expository preaching and the mission of the church.
The mission of the church is to make disciples as we go throughout all the earth [Matthew 28:16-20]. Though the mission of the church is clear, how is preaching related to mission? What is the role of the pulpit in mission? What particular benefits are there for expository preaching in mission mobilization? This paper will examine each of these questions and conclude with some personal reflections on the importance of preaching and mission.
A Definition of Preaching and Mission
The reader should notice that the word selected for the work of the church is mission as opposed to missions. Missions seems to imply that this is a mere activity or ministry that the church does. Mission, on the other hand, is a word implicating that the church is part of something. J.H. Christopher Wright says, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission – God’s mission” . Notice how Wright attempts to reorient the reader’s perspective so that God is central to mission. It may be more appropriately asked, “What is our part in the mission of God?” Hence, for this assessment, I will speak of God’s mission for the church.
In addition to mission, there is preaching. The scripture makes quite clear the primacy of preaching within the local church context as well as in local communities. Listen to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the matter:
…the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called. If you want something in addition to that I would say without any hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also. 
We must affirm that there is no replacement for preaching, but what is the connection to mission? In Mark 16:15 Jesus said, “…Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (KJV). The gospel record of Mark ends in the same manner in which it began – with an emphasis on preaching ministry. Notice the beginning of Mark: “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God…” (1:14). If Jesus’ ministry began with preaching and Jesus’ commission to his followers was to continue preaching, how do mission and the church’s responsibility of preaching coincide? We must agree on our definitions for both preaching and mission.
The word preaching has been given various definitions, but is there a way to concisely and comprehensively consider what is meant by the term? Peter Adam says, “By preaching we mean something like a public formal monologue to the congregation…” . This definition of preaching is insufficient for explaining how preaching is to be accomplished. Both Timothy Keller and Peter Adam identify preaching as one type of ministry of the Word .
Before we comprehensively define preaching, there is a presupposition that must be considered – authority of the Word of God. The preacher is preaching the Word, and this inherently presupposes that the Word of God is authoritative. This authority means that the preacher cannot insert his own meaning into a passage, but that he must be committed to identifying the meaning of the passage. Passage meaning includes knowing authorial intention. It is this author’s conviction that expositional preaching best accomplishes the task of exposing the meaning of a passage and maintaining the integrity of the authority of God’s Word.
Expositional preaching should be the primary means in which preaching should be done and in how preaching should be defined. Dr. David Prince defines expositional preaching as follows:
Expository preaching is preaching that takes a particular text of Scripture as its subject, proclaiming the truth of that text in light of its historical, epochal, and Christocentric, kingdom-focused canonical contexts, thereby exposing the meaning of the human and divine authors for the purpose of Gospel-centered application. 
Prince’s definition is comprehensive, and it encompasses all of the elements that may be open for question. What is the subject? The scripture. What do you do with the truth? Proclaim it. What contexts should be considered when proclaiming the message? Historical, epochal, Christocentric, and kingdom-focused contexts. What does the preacher accomplish? Expose the meaning of human and divine authors. Why does the preacher expose this meaning? Gospel-centered application. In every way, Prince’s definition is suitable and contends with the best definitions available. There is also a scriptural basis for this kind of definition.
The scripture connects this kind of preaching with the mission of the church in Luke 24:44-49:
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.
In this one passage, Jesus Christ connects a kind of preaching with the mission of the church. The kind of preaching cannot be separated from the Christocentric understanding of all the scriptures. The formula used of Luke when he said, “…law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms…” [24:44] is a way of referencing the entire Old Testament. This Christocentric understanding of the Old Testament is connected with three infinitives: to suffer, to rise, and to preach. This latter infinitive to preach is to be done among all nations. Thus, the connection between preaching and mission is explicit.
Note that this passage is not necessarily a case for verse-by-verse preaching, a common misconception about exposition. The passage in Luke confirms that if a student of the Bible were to expose and summarize the Old Covenant, then that exposition would yield the Person and work of Jesus Christ. In addition, the exposition should reveal what is to be done with this Christ-centered message of Jesus. Thus, while Luke may not confirm verse-by-verse preaching, he does indeed confirm expositional preaching – meaning Christ-centered preaching exposes Christ in the scriptures.
Summarily, when preaching is the subject, Dr. Prince’s definition will be used because of its comprehensiveness. In particular, the kind of preaching that is recognized for the sake of assessment is Christ-centered exposition.
If preaching is Christ-centered exposition of a passage of scripture, then what is mission? There are numerous definitions available. Wright says, “The mission of God’s people is to bring good news to a world where bad news is depressingly endemic” . Wright’s book is helpful in connecting the mission of God’s people to the entire scripture – in particular, he shows that this mission is rooted in Old Covenant language. Wright says:
The second reason is that it seems probable that the New Testament vocabulary of gospel and evangelism actually has its roots in the Old Testament, specifically in the book of Isaiah (and some psalms, as we will see). The “gospel” words go back, in fact, to the good news that came to the exiles in Babylon. 
While Wright does a good job of presenting the biblical theology of the mission of God’s people, he seems to incorporate additional responsibilities within the mission for God’s people. These responsibilities include environmental stewardship and social engagement. So, while Wright has a concise definition for mission, he elaborates on that definition by incorporating matters that the explicit command of Jesus Christ does not commend to his followers.
A second and more helpful definition is presented by Missionary Jake Taube who defines mission as follows: “To proactively declare the gospel to unbelieving individuals in an effort to make them maturing disciples of Christ” . Taube summarizes the Great Commission accounts to give specificity to the mission of the church. This definition clarifies the bullseye of the target while simultaneously connecting our two key considerations: preaching and mission.
Summarily, preaching is the means through which the mission of the church is accomplished. Preaching is the proclamation of the faithfully exposited, good news of Jesus Christ for the purpose of the mission – making disciples to the glory of God.* With this working definition, we must now answer the following questions: (1) What is the role of the pulpit in mission? (2) What are the particular benefits of expository preaching for mission mobilization?
Summarily, preaching is the means through which the mission of the church is accomplished. Preaching is the proclamation of the faithfully exposited, good news of Jesus Christ for the purpose of the mission – making disciples to the glory of God.
THE PULPIT AND MISSION
When the Word of God is exposited from the church pulpits, mission can be effectively accomplished. There are two ways in which the pulpit has an important role in mission. First, the Word preached presses upon the hearts of the hearers the mission given by Jesus Christ. Second, the Word preached sanctifies the people of God for life together – a means of evangelism.
When the Word of God is exposited from the church pulpits, mission can be effectively accomplished.
The pulpit preaching work is what Keller refers to as the level three of preaching. Keller says, “But there are many ways to do the ministry of the Word at level 2 that take more preparation and presentation skills yet do not consist of delivering sermons (level 3)” . Regarding the Sunday sermon work, Keller does give a warning: “We must beware of thinking the Sunday sermon can carry all the freight of any church’s ministry of the Word” . While the pulpit is not completely responsible for being the means of accomplishing mission, it is nonetheless central.
Preaching influences the hearers. Commenting on two outstanding preachers from history, Keller says, “Lloyd-Jones and Edwards believed preaching should aim to make an impression on the listener, and that impression is more important than ‘information takeaways” . In other words, preaching should impact the heart, and this impact should lead to a response. Though Keller is primarily speaking of sermons for unbelieving individuals, the principle is still true for the believer. As the Word of God is preached, it is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness according to II Timothy 3:16.
The pressing of the Word upon the hearts of the hearers through preaching must include mission, but it must begin with the preacher. Influential preaching begins with the influence of the preacher’s life before it proceeds through the words the preacher declares. Timothy Scott Jones says, “Shepherd leaders who follow the example of Jesus are commissioned to follow, feed, and die as they nourish the sheep, guard the sheep, and follow the model shepherd” . Notice how Jones points out that the leader is commissioned. Before the preacher stands in the pulpit to exclaim an imperative that is bearing upon all believers, he must manifest a submission to the commission himself. The life of the preacher is to preach mission so that his words can effectively preach mission.
In addition to a life of submission to commission, the pulpit must be the place where the Word is preached to God’s people for the purpose of mission to God’s glory. This responsibility of the pulpit is what Jones and Wilder call the feeding of the flock . It is my contention that part of this feeding of the flock necessarily includes the exhortation to intentional mission. One cannot read, study, and preach the Gospel records or the book of Acts without seeing the exhortation to make disciples. If the exhortation to mission is clear in the scriptures, then it must be clear from the pulpits. This also means that one cannot effectively feed the flock of God without an emphasis on missional responsibility.
…one cannot effectively feed the flock of God without an emphasis on missional responsibility.
In addition to intentional exhortation from the pulpit, Iain Murray notes something quite interesting about the life of the church when writing about D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Murray says,
From the experience of these years Dr. Lloyd-Jones was immovably confirmed in the truth which he had first seen in the New Testament. It was that evangelism is pre-eminently dependent upon the quality of the Christian life which is known and enjoyed in the church. The community around Sandfields was reached not by advertising or organized visitation, but by the manner of life of men and women whose very faces seemed to be new. 
If indeed the mission, which includes the preaching of the evangel, is dependent upon the quality of the life of the church, then it stands to reason that preaching is fundamental to mission. Preaching shapes the life of believers in the church. Preaching the Word sanctifies the hearers of the Word. Preaching in such a way that believers increasingly love each other is a powerful evangel. Jesus told his disciples, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Thus, the pulpit is directly and fundamentally connected with the mission of the church, but what kind of preaching should characterize the pulpit which mobilizes the church?
EXPOSITORY PREACHING AND MOBILIZATION
True expository preaching reveals the God Who is on mission. As previously noted, the exposition of a scripture is to be Gospel-centered. This means there are particular contexts that must be studied in order to rightly divide the Word. In so doing, the Old Testament scriptures are shown as progressively heading towards Jesus Christ while the New Testament scriptures reveal the implications of Jesus’ life, death for sin, resurrection, and ascension – flowing from Christ. What is undeniable is that God is on mission. As some biblical theologies may put it, there is Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation. Within each stage, there is the mission of God’s people. Wright says, “The mission of God is what unifies the Bible from creation to new creation” . Only true expository preaching** can make this connection for mobilization.
But how is there a connection between the Christ-centered, expositional preaching and mobilization? The answer lies in understanding that Christ-centered preaching is not merely for unbelievers, but Christ-centered preaching is for believers. Bryan Chapell says,
However well-intended and biblically rooted a sermon’s instruction may be, if the message does not incorporate the motivation and enablement inherent in proper apprehension of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, the preacher proclaims mere Pharisaism. Preaching that is faithful to the whole of Scripture not only establishes God’s requirements but also highlights the redemptive truths that make holiness possible. 
Chapell rightly makes the point that when the imperatives of the scripture are given, the preacher must show how Christ makes the imperative possible. This connection brings the reader back to Luke 24:49 where Jesus Christ tells the disciples that the Father would endue them with power from on high – a reference to the sending of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost [Acts 1:8]. True expositional preaching not only has a biblical theological component, but it is Christ-centered in that it commands and calls people to faith-filled obedience in the command. The command to make disciples must be obeyed because of the full, sufficient provision in Christ.
True expositional preaching not only has a biblical theological component, but it is Christ-centered in that it commands and calls people to faith-filled obedience in the command.
Personal Reflections on the Importance of Preaching and Missions
The materials studied in preparation for this course have influenced me in several ways, which I will present in the following assertions: (1) I am shepherding people and not merely preaching at them; (2) Preaching the Word is irreplaceable at all levels; (3) Preaching has more to do with mission mobilization than is often understood.
First, as a pastor, I am shepherding the flock of God. Jones and Wilder’s book was especially helpful with this emphasis. There is a measure of patience and perseverance which was evident in the shepherding of Jesus Christ and which should increasingly characterize my shepherding responsibilities.
Feeding the flock includes the preaching of the Word, and this includes learning the needs of the flock so that I can effectively make applications to those who are hearing my preaching. Keller’s book on preaching was edifying in this respect. Keller includes a section called Reaching the People where he addresses the mind of the hearers. While Keller is addressing a preaching to unbelieving people, the importance of contextualization for the believers in the church is of utmost importance. Keller says, “Preaching cannot simply be accurate and sound. It must capture the listeners’ interest and imaginations; it must be compelling and penetrate to their hearts” . David Helm defines contextualization this way: “In simple terms, contextualization in preaching is communicating the gospel message in ways that are understandable or appropriate to the listener’s cultural context” . Feeding the flock necessarily involves a preaching that considers what will be understandable and influential to the hearers.
The irreplaceability of preaching was not a new concept, but it was refreshing to have it re-emphasized and to have the truth emphasized in a new way. By this I am referring to the three levels of preaching which Keller presented. This multi-level understanding of the sermon is a helpful way to understand a part of the ministry of the Word; but Keller does make clear the importance of the public sermon. Keller says, “The public preaching of Christ in the Christian assembly (level 3) is a unique way that God speaks to and builds up people, and it sets up the more organic forms of Word ministry at levels 1 and 2” . This thought leads into the next reality that preaching has more to do with mobilization than I initially thought.
Transparently, I had never connected mobilization with preaching other than the command to “Go!” Wright’s book regarding the mission of God’s people was helpful in establishing a biblical theology which made mission more than just missions. With missions, I thought merely about something that the church needed to do – a thought that, when explored, did not consider the mission of God comprehensively. This reorientation led me to ask the question, “How is God accomplishing his mission right now?” In answer to this was that God has a church for his mission. This answer comes from the influence of Wright’s perspective on the mission of God. From this reorientation, it was not hard to see how preaching was central to mobilization for mission since preaching is God’s means for mission inside and outside of the church.
Thus, the church is on God’s mission, and this mission includes a kind of preaching for a specific purpose. The kind of preaching that should characterize the pulpits in the churches is expositional preaching, and this preaching is for the purpose of mission mobilization to the glory of God.
* This is Max Fernandez’s working definition.
** I am using true expository preaching in light of the previously established definition.
Adam, Peter. Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2004.
Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2005.
Helm, David R. Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.
Jones, D. Martyn-Lloyd. Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
Jones, Timothy Scott, and Michael S. Wilder. The God Who Goes before You: Pastoral Leadership as Christ-Centered Followership. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2018.
Keller, Timothy. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Viking, 2015.
Murray, Iain. The Life of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1899-1981. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of the Truth Trust, 2020.
Prince, David and Ashland Staff. Church with Jesus as the Hero. Lexington: Ashland Publishing, 2015.
Taube, Jake. Send Me, I’ll Go: Letting the Mission Choose Your Direction. Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2015.
Wright, Christopher J.H. The Mission of God’s People: Biblical Theology for Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2010.
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