Pastoral Lessons from Martyn Lloyd-Jones

My first experience at church planting was not easy.  It was trying times to keep a small group meeting in a nursing home, a YWCA hall, and even an occasional hotel room!  For a while, it seemed like we were vagabonds carrying boxes of Bibles and song books in and out of doors from one Sunday to the next.  But that really wasn’t the hard part.  The hardest part was listening to those around me who had bought hook line and sinker into techniques that were sure to make the church grow.  It was during those days that I read my first book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  It was the masterful work on preaching, which began as lectures delivered to the faculty and student body at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, later published and aptly titled, Preaching and Preachers

I was sitting in my office one afternoon reading this gem when it suddenly hit me.  How can I imbibe church growth techniques while at the same time giving my Amen to the Doctor’s indictment, “If the people are not attending places of worship I hold the pulpit to be primarily responsible”?[1]  That sentence turned things upside down for me or perhaps a better way of saying it – it turned things right side up!  I was faced with two differing philosophies and the disparity was palpable.  The church growth enthusiasts whispering in my ear tried to convince me that I shouldn’t lower my view of preaching.  No!  I should raise every other aspect of ministry to the level occupied by preaching!  It seems pious enough – even wise.  But there is only one problem.  Such a theory will inevitably minimize the “primacy” of preaching the Word. 

So, what counsel did the good Doctor have for one such as me?  It was the very counsel he gave to the church in Wales in 1925 prior to his becoming a minister.[2]  Speaking to the Union of Welsh Societies he said, “Preaching has very largely become a profession.  Instead of real Christian sermons we are given second-hand expositions of psychology.”[3]  Almost fifty years later Lloyd-Jones had not changed his mind.  In 1969 he asked his audience at Westminster Theological Seminary what the minister should avoid.  His answer was crystal clear, “First and foremost professionalism.  That is the greatest of all dangers in the ministry.”[4]

But this warning led to further wisdom. If professionalism is the greatest danger, then what is the chief end of the preacher?  Lloyd-Jones answered that very question saying, “I like to think it is this.  It is to give men and woman a sense of God and his presence.”[5]  For Lloyd-Jones this meant that preaching was “logic on fire!” or “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.”[6]  Those who have read Iain Murray’s biography of Lloyd-Jones know that this was a description of the Doctor himself.  In the first newspaper description of Lloyd-Jones preaching, which appeared only five months after he settled into his first pastorate, we read from the reporters pen,

Mine was a human failing of curiosity on visiting the Bethlehem Forward Movement Church, Aberavon, last Sunday.  Curiosity soon vanished, however.  The presence of the young doctor in the pulpit, the tremendous zeal revealed in his preaching, the air of great faith and certainty that he carried, all combined to sweep it away.  I remained to wonder and to respect…. My versions of the sermons are but a weak picture of the originals, but I dare to hope that the reader will get a faint conception of the tremendous impetus behind the preacher.[7]

Mr. Sam Jones, the reporter who wrote these words, had experienced theology coming through a man who was on fire. 

Though I could go on and on, there is a final lesson I want to share with you.  Lest the young ministerial student get too romantic a view of preaching, Lloyd-Jones reminds us that “To love preaching is one thing, to love those to whom we preach quite another.”[8]  He went on to say, “The trouble with some of us is that we love preaching, but we are not always careful to make sure that we love the people to whom we are actually preaching.”[9]  Here again, Murray’s biography wonderfully illustrates this point.  One only needs to take it up and read the delightful accounts of how the church Lloyd-Jones pastored was a family and he was their “beloved father in Christ.”[10]

After reading Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, and Murray’s biography my ministry orientation underwent a radical change.  I no longer looked for techniques that would grow the little fledgling flock instead I sought to preach as a man on fire and love the people to whom I preached.  That is what I learned from the good Doctor. 

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972), 52.  Lloyd-Jones was referred to as the Doctor because he was a trained physician.

[2] Iain Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), 85-86.

[3] Ibid., 88.

[4] Lloyd-Jones, 252.

[5] Ibid., 97.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Murray, 144.

[8] Lloyd Jones, 92.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Murray, 237.

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.

Jeffrey Stivason