At times we may become depressed because there is such little response to our preaching efforts today. People do not come to lectures in the numbers they did a few decades ago, and seminars often attract less interest than they did some years ago. The question is often asked, “What does your ecclesia do for preaching activities and what interest do you get?” In this series we will look at the subject of preaching and how we may be able, individually and ecclesially, to do more in this important area of work in the Lord’s service. We should mention that this lack of interest by friends may be more related to the affluent West, for in many third world countries there is a steady flow of converts to the Truth.

Among those reading this series there will be the young and enthusiastic, filled with zeal to get out there and do something that will bring amazing results. There will also be those who, like myself, have been in the Truth over half a century and been involved in the preaching work of their ecclesia throughout that time. Added to those 50 years there were the valuable formative years spent attending lectures with parents from childhood. Those who are older now were fired with a zeal to preach like many of the young brethren and sisters of today. All of us, on reading the example of the Apostle Paul and the stories of Acts, certainly are enthused by Paul’s dedication to fulfil that commission for which he was called (Acts 26:15– 18). Added to this, as one becomes familiar with the dedicated preaching work of Brother Thomas and Brother Roberts, we are encouraged to maintain a dedicated pursuit to proclaim the Truth to this perishing world. Being young in the Truth we were all mightily encouraged by the example of Brother Roberts who, when he was 20, gave the series of public lectures now published as Christendom Astray, supported by a Christadelphian audience of one – his wife Sister Jane. However there were a number of the townsfolk who did come to hear.

Today younger brethren and sisters come up with new ways to preach, new methods to advertise and ways to present the Truth more simply and clearly. Those who are older will recalltheir experiences over those years and their ‘new ideas’ that they took along to the older brethren, asking if they could be tried. I came to appreciate the wisdom of some of those older brethren, some who now sleep awaiting the resurrection, who would patiently listen and work with us, always balancing encouragement and support with steady and experienced advice to ensure our enthusiasm did not breach commonsense! Those who are now older in the ecclesias should appreciate the keenness of the younger members and encourage and work with them. There was the expression: ‘if you have a spirited horse be thankful and work with it and train it and you will have a valuable animal for years to come’. Likewise, if you have spirited younger members wanting to preach, then work with them as you are laying a sound foundation for the ecclesia of the future.

A brief look at the past

Younger members may think that nothing new was ever tried in preaching over the past 60 years. That possibly comes from the fact that the young are now in the computer and electronic age with all its paraphernalia, and many older brethren are just not literate in these things. Let me comment on this from my experiences in my early ecclesial life. Today we have PowerPoint to show the quotes, maps and pictures that we think will help to explain our lectures. Back in my teenage years our ecclesia had the same quotes and maps and pictures on the screen for the attendees. They were made on 35mm slides and we had a strong projector, and if the lecturer at the memorial meeting gave the quotes needed for the night lecture to the brother who had the dark room at his house, they were back for the lecturer that night. Colour slides took longer. We had a half hour radio programme on Sunday afternoons at 5.30pm on a main radio station. You may be saying – who listens to radio? Well, most people did – TV had not been introduced to Australia then, nor were Sunday sporting fixtures allowed.

Printing was invented by Gutenberg in 1455 so we actually were able to print leaflets for distributions and place full page and half page advertisements in newspapers. In fact, I recall two brethren who purchased a little offset printing machine so they could print leaflets in their spare time after work. The aim was to cut the costs of using a commercial printer. This seems nothing out of the ordinary until it is realised that they would print over ¼ million copies of some of the leaflets they produced for distribution. Of course, they first had to write the leaflets before printing them. At times a special series of lectures would be held in hired halls during the week, as well as the regular Sunday lecture. Also a Bible Exhibition was displayed and stands were placed at local shows in an endeavour to introduce the Truth to friends. There was Sunday afternoon public preaching in parks that were designated for that use, or permits were obtained if necessary for other locations. As young people there was any amount of preaching activity to become involved with, or as already mentioned, we could bring proposals to the older brethren to discuss them together. In all we seemed to be quite busy in preaching then.

One thing I do remember though, and this also has not changed greatly, we did not have great numbers of friends attending most of these events but we were all very excited to have one here and one there who followed through to learn the Truth. The other fact was that there were certain brethren who we all knew would speak to interested friends and it was a great pleasure to be able to be with them in some of these discussions. We certainly appreciated the opportunity to hear these experienced brethren patiently listen to questions raised, some quite forcefully, and then patiently give soundly reasoned scriptural answers. This for us was certainly a wonderful training ground. We also noticed that these brethren would try to make arrangements to follow people up if it was possible. However one great difference between yesterday and today was that most friends had a strong religious conviction and many were able to put forward their view backed up by Scripture as they saw it. In our audience today very few have a working knowledge of their Bible and so we need to speak very simply to explain our points.

We mention these reminiscences of past preaching just to remind us all that we are a community who have taken preaching as a serious responsibility. No doubt some who lived through the past 50 years or so in the Truth will be fondlyrecalling some preaching activities they were involved in with their ecclesias too.

Ecclesial preaching defined in The Guide

Having given this nostalgic recollection of preaching over the past 60 years let us go back further to the early days of ecclesial life in the 1800s. Brother Roberts saw the need to have the balance fairly stated between the work of preaching and the need for edification of the Ecclesia by way of study and exhortation. He set forth this balance this way in The Ecclesial Guide.

“The objects of ecclesial operations are two-fold: 1 – the edification (or refreshment, encouragement, strengthening, or building up) of its individual constituents in the faith – ‘the edifying of itself in love’ (Eph 4: 16); and 2 – the exhibition of the light of truth to ‘those that are without’. In this two-fold capacity, the ecclesia is ‘the pillar [that which upholds] and ground [that which gives standing room] of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15). These two objects will always be carefully pursued by enlightened and earnest men. Neither is to be lost sight of, and neither sacrificed to the other. Edification is the more agreeable: but the testimony of the truth is equally a dutiful function. We must, therefore, resist the tendency to exalt the former over the latter; and, at the same time, be equally on our guard that we pursue not the latter to the sacrifice of the former.’ (writer’s emphasis)

We all have individual abilities or talents which we must carefully assess and then diligently use for the overall benefit of the body of Christ. Some have an aptitude for public preaching more than others; while others have the capacity for deeper study of the Word of God and the ability to clearly present their findings for the benefit of the body. There are those who have the ability to minister in other areas and we must take care that we do not feel the area where we have a greater ability and feel more comfortable working in is the work that needs to be dominant in the ecclesia. All sections need to be working together for the ultimate benefit of the body as a whole. Preaching is one area of work we should all be involved in in one way or another. From the ecclesial position, not all are able to present the Truth from the platform clearly and logically but there is work in preaching for all. What a distorted ecclesia it would be if all were lecturers. “For the body is not one member, but many”. If the whole body were lecturers, where were the audience, doormen, presiders, organists etc? As we consider this topic we will see there is work for all in preaching; or rather, the work of preaching is for all.

“The foolishness of preaching”

If Paul, the most extensive preacher to follow Christ that the world has seen, had not said this, we would have rejected it out of hand. Let us look at the whole quote.

“… hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor 1:20–21).

Certainly a paradox is entwined here. It is utterly impossible for the wise of this world to know God’s wisdom by their wisdom. Therefore God, in His wisdom (and how incomprehensible to man is the depth of His wisdom!) determined that through the foolishness of preaching, those who believed the message of salvation would be saved because of their faith, a concept far too simple for the wise of this world to perceive. By the way, Paul here has not deviated one step from the words of Christ when he said: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark16:15–16). In preaching the gospel, belief and salvation are the elements in both statements.

Therefore the foolishness of preaching discourages the use of highflying marketing plans and strategies developed by the wisdom of this world, as the way we are to approach our preaching activities. One could not envisage Paul sitting with Timothy and Silas, poring over complex marketing strategies as he went from Thessalonica down to Berea, over to Athens and then on to Corinth. And when he arrived at Corinth he tells us what he did: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:1–2). This certainly was a very basic approach to preaching but it still needed the preacher.

However we do appreciate that serious and prayerful thought must be given by brethren when considering the differing ways and means to advertise and present the Truth today, as Paul did in his time, with the aim to have people’s interest awakened to the gospel message of hope.

To many religions “the foolishness of preaching” is just too foolish. It doesn’t bring the big crowd responses. So marketing is applied and the message modified, nay changed completely, to suit the whim of the crowds. In the ’60s Billy Graham sent out his well-oiled marketing team to cities well before his crusades arrived, to plan and execute the advertising and arrange for the impressive choir, altar calls and, most importantly, the collections. Today in Hillsong and the like, with the band, musicians and all the hype that goes to please and excite the crowd, we have anything but “the foolishness of preaching” as God in His wisdom intended. How tragic it has been over the years to see a member here and there, overcome with this emotion and hype, caught away from the Truth by such foolishness. Likewise how tragic it would be if we had members today again caught up in the kind of music-mania and insipid so-called preaching that is going on in many locations around the world. Many churches offer degrees, even doctorates, so their preachers or would-be preachers will be considered wise by this world.

How wonderful is God’s simple wisdom for preaching. None of us need any worldly qualification to be able to say to our neighbour, work colleague or school associate – “Let me tell you about God’s coming kingdom and how you can share a place in it”. All we need do to preach the gospel is to tell the basic doctrines that we all came to believe when we were baptised. And how simple is that? We can all do that. How true are Paul’s words: “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” and how thankful we are that we are among those whom God has chosen to do this work.

The Apostle Paul gave us a very uncomplicated explanation for the reason he continued preaching. After listing both the physical and mental stresses and anxieties he endured, he gave his reason for continuing on. He wrote: “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written [Psa 116:10], I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak” (2 Cor 4:13). Does our belief compel us to speak, as it did Paul?

We have seen that preaching is therefore the responsibility of us all, either collectively in our ecclesias or individually as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the next article we will look at the basic message we are called to preach and the ways we can do this.