Book Review : Called to Preach

Called to Preach Review By James Jeffery

Called to Preach by Steven J. Lawson

I’m sure you’ve heard these questions before:

  • Are people ‘called’ to preach’?
  • What should be the priority of the pastor? 
  • What makes for effective preaching? 

Over the past few years, I have been wrestling through these questions. I’ve particularly considered what it means to be called to pastoral ministry. Part of the challenge is that the language of being ‘called’ is foreign to many Australian evangelicals. Called to Preach was the instrument God used to helped me come to an appreciation of the Biblical basis of calling, and how this manifests itself in the life of the local church. 

In addition to calling, Lawson explores the nature and fundamentals of expository preaching in a simple yet substantive way. It deals with the why, what, and how of expository preaching. Certainly, none of the content is ‘new’ — rather, Lawson unpacks scriptural teaching on preaching and illustrates his argument with numerous examples throughout church history. 

In many respects, Called to Preach is the combination Lloyd Jones’ Preaching and Preachers, Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students, and Bryan Chappell’s Christ-Centred Preaching. This, I believe, is what makes it such a unique and valuable resource for pastors and aspiring preachers.


Preaching Jesus Christ 

Lawson rightly emphasises that preaching must be all about Jesus. Preaching that fails to magnify and glorify Christ is like the sky without the sun. The chief goal, Lawson argues, is to ‘present Jesus as the grand theme of all Scripture.’ (p. 59). He raises the bar by exhorting preachers to see their responsibility as a royal one.
The inevitable consequence of such preaching will be ‘an enlarged awareness of the greatness of God’ which will ‘dominate [the congregation’s] life, and an overwhelming humility will grip their soul, because the living God is making a claim upon them’ (p. 32). I cannot help but imagine what Australia would be like if every pulpit had such preaching each Sunday!

Lawson’s reminder to preach Jesus Christ is one which all preachers — including myself — constantly need to be reminded of. As a mentor once told me, the hardest task for a preacher is to preach the gospel each week. For by doing so, glory is given to none other than God Himself. Moreover, it challenges the moralistic impulse of the human heart — even the preacher’s heart! — to find refuge in our works rather than the finished work of Jesus Christ. 


Preaching and Priorities

In the current age, it seems there is an endless stream of programs, church-surveys, and strategies that promise church growth and maturity. These seem to have arisen in response to the decline of Christendom. Statistically speaking, less Australians are attending church, fewer men are pursuing pastoral ministry, and many congregations are shrinking. In the midst of this, the question is raised: what should be the pastor’s top priority? 

Lawson argues the pinnacle of the pastor’s task is preaching the word, for ‘In every generation, the church of Jesus Christ rises or falls with its pulpit’ (p. 9). Preaching, being the declaration and exposition of the Word of God, is the greatest need for every congregation, for it is the greatest need of every Christian. After all, what better way to be fed and nourished than to regularly hear the voice of God?

The solution to dry and joyless worship is to ‘revive the pulpit,’ for this ‘brings the strongest influence to bear upon the spiritual life of the church at the highest level.’ (p. 14). It is trust in the power of God’s Word that gives believers confidence to advance God’s kingdom in the dark world in which we find ourselves. 


Preaching and Passion

We Australians tend not to get too emotional in our preaching. Maybe it’s an inherited British traditionalism. Maybe it’s because we’re over-reacting against Pentecostalism. Either way, I suspect our preaching suffers at times because we are afraid of being passionate in the pulpit. 

It must be acknowledged that preachers have varying emotional dispositions, which manifest in preaching styles. However, passion is a non-negotiable trait of all preaching when we consider the magnitude and gravity of the truths we proclaim. Rather than giving a ‘Bible-talk,’ Lawson summons preachers to guard against stale preaching:

“Dispassionate preaching reveals the preacher’s lukewarm heart toward the truth. Preaching in monotone is not preaching at all…Simply going through the empty motions of religious talk, with a lack of passion, falls short of the biblical standard of what true preaching is” (p. 124)

Rather than giving a Bible-talk, every sermon must be ‘a coronation service in which you crown the majesty of God before the awestruck eyes of the congregation’ (p. 53). By doing so, the attention of God’s people is drawn heavenward to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 


Preaching and Practical Considerations

Finally, one of the most helpful aspects of Called to Preach was the practical advice offered to preachers. Often when I begin my sermon preparation, I don’t know where to begin. Lawson’s break-down of the entire sermon preparation process into manageable steps greatly helped me. He explains what to do, how to do it, and the spiritual warfare all preachers will endure throughout the process. 
Here are just a couple of Lawson’s practical suggestions:

“As you write your manuscript, lead your listeners to consider what is not directly stated in your passage but is clearly implied…The unstated implications of your passage enable you to expand the richness of its teaching.” (p. 103)

“You also need a comfortable but firm chair that will keep your back straight and allow you to study for great lengths of time, and office supplies, such as a computer, printer, paper, ink, stapler, staple remover, clock…” (p. 77)

“CS Lewis once said great writers write with their ears, not with their eyes” (p. 168)

There are many more examples in Called to Preach that illustrate Lawson’s understanding of the preacher’s task, the unique challenges they face, and his own concern for preachers. The book is worth purchasing if only for this section!
Having personally met Lawson, I can testify that his heart’s desire is to encourage and exhort preachers, especially those who are new to the task.

The Bottom Line

Whether or not you are a novice or an experienced preacher, Lawson’s book exhorts us to consider how we can continually refine and develop our preaching in tangible ways. It is not cliché, repetitive, or simplistic, and offers helps for anyone who desires to faithfully exposit God’s Word for the edification of God’s people. 

Called to Preach gave me confidence that preaching is a calling from God, assurance that He has provided all the tools we need to faithfully execute the task, and that Jesus Christ is the Chief Shepherd to whom all preachers must constantly point their people to.