Why We Need Evangelistic Preaching on Sunday Morning
By Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” (Luke 15:4)
I attended two liberal seminaries before I became a fundamental Baptist. I would not recommend that anyone else do this because it was a terrible experience. But I did gain some insights from those five years of graduate school. For instance, I took a class in preaching at San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is a United Presbyterian school. The professor himself was a United Presbyterian. He was not an evangelical, even in the sense that Billy Graham is an evangelical. He did not pretend to be one. And yet he taught us to do “expository” preaching. That is, I think, when I began to realize that “expository” preaching, as it is done in many pulpits, is not the answer to our problems.
It often surprises me that the preaching in many fundamental churches today is actually not much different from what comes from the pulpits in liberal churches. An explanation of a passage of several verses of Scripture is what most people hear on Sunday in our churches, both liberal and fundamental.
I have come to believe that what we need today, more than anything else, are evangelistic sermons, drawn from one or two verses of Scripture, or perhaps from a phrase of Scripture.
Take, for instance, Luke 15:4, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” (Luke 15:4)
There’s a lot in that verse. I recently revised one of Spurgeon’s sermons into modern English on the words, “until he find it,” at the very end of the verse. It was an evangelistic sermon.
But look at that verse again, the whole verse. Jesus was saying something here that preachers ought to think about. He said that we should leave the ninety and nine and go after the lost sheep. That is a startling statement, I think, and it should be reflected in our preaching. We should go after the lost sheep from the pulpit!
Isn’t that what the old-time preachers did – even within recent memory? Didn’t they preach evangelistic sermons most of the time? Whitefield did it, and so did John Wesley. Bunyan did it, and so did Edwards. Spurgeon did it, and so did Torrey, and Oliver B. Greene, and Bob Jones, Sr., and John R. Rice – and all the old-time preachers who built up our churches and made them great.
Listen to Dr. John R. Rice as he comments on Luke 15:4, Oh, if a preacher would learn to “leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost, until he find it”! And the Saviour said, in justification of this teaching, that “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” A pastor ought to be more concerned over one soul that is lost, than over ninety-nine church members who are saved! A pastor’s preaching ought to be largely addressed to the unconverted.” (Dr. John R. Rice, Why Our Churches Do Not Win Souls, Sword of the Lord, 1966, p. 69).
Was Dr. Rice’s statement too strong? Was he wrong to say, “A pastor’s preaching ought to be largely addressed to the unconverted”? I don’t think so.
Dr. B. R. Lakin said that 75% of those attending Bible-believing churches are lost. Dr. A. W. Tozer put the figure at 90%. Dr. W. A. Criswell estimated the figure at 75% (see our book, Preaching to a Dying Nation, pp. 42-43). Evangelical author Paris Reidhead said, â€œWe’ve got to recognize that the message of salvation must not be addressed only to “the world,” but to members of America’s evangelical churches also. The greatest mission field for evangelism today, and in the days ahead, is among church membersâ€ (Paris Reidhead, Getting Evangelicals Saved, Bethany House, 1989, p. 47).
Dr. Monroe Parker said, “If we could get half the church members saved, we would see a great revival” (Dr. Monroe Parker, Through Sunshine and Shadows, Sword of the Lord, 1987, p. 61).
If the figures given by Dr. Lakin, Dr. Tozer, and Dr. Criswell are anywhere near being correct, it means that probably two-thirds of the people you speak to next Sunday morning are unconverted! If you preach to the lost, you will hardly be leaving ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness to go after one lost sheep! No, you will more than likely be going after quite a large number of people!
I believe that evangelistic preaching, aimed at the lost, brings vigor and life to a congregation, especially on Sunday morning. Evangelistic preaching should be textual and exegetical – that is, there should be an exposition of one or two verses, with one main sermon idea, followed by application – concerning salvation. Evangelistic preaching should be largely apologetic in our day. By that, I mean that it should defend the teachings of the Bible against the false ideas so prevalent in our time. Evangelistic preaching should also dwell on sin, and make much of the crucified and risen Saviour. As Spurgeon put it, “Preach up Christ.”