11 Ways to Preach Christ
Thomas Brooks on the Necessity & Importance of Gospel Preaching
A minister of the gospel engages in a wide variety of responsibilities. Chief among them is the call to preach Christ in all His fullness. When Paul arrived in Corinth, he resolved to know nothing while among them except Christ crucified. The church in Corinth—as is true of the church in all places—was built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Interestingly, when Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about an array of issues that touched on cultural, ethical, and theological concerns, he continued in his resolve to know nothing among them beyond Jesus Christ and Him crucified. By doing so, Paul demonstrated that the gospel is remarkably relevant to Christians in all situations, circumstances, and times. The gospel frames the contours of our theology, our ethics, and we interpret and live in our world. Preaching Christ means bringing Christ to bear upon all things, whether the “all things” be cultural, ethical, or theological. Under the authority of the Word and by the empowering ministry of the Spirit, the minister seeks to shape the whole life (mind, will, emotion, moral imagination) of each hearer by holding forth the person and work of Jesus Christ.
There are two primary perspectives involved in the activity of preaching Christ. The first touches upon the minister and the manner in which he preaches Christ. The second involves the application of Christ to show how the gospel not only saves, but also transforms and shapes the Christian’s life. So, both the exposition and the application are bound up in the one calling to proclaim the unsearchable riches of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In his The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, the 17th-century Puritan, Thomas Brooks, identified eleven ways a minister is to preach Christ, summarized here:
- Christ must be preached plainly. Ministers ought to give great attention to the art of communicating Christ in a way that understood by the audience. The goal is to present the lofty glories of Christ and the multi-faceted ramifications of the gospel clearly.
- Christ must be preached faithfully. Paul addresses the nature and calling of the gospel minister in 1 Corinthians 4, exhorting the minister to be found faithful. He calls a minister a “steward.” The good news is not something a minister can mold and fashion according to his own desire. Rather, God entrusts ministers to be faithful stewards of His gospel, clearly revealed in the Word. The faithfulness of which Paul speaks here is not so much the moral faithfulness of the minister (he addresses that elsewhere). Rather, Paul has in mind the minister’s faithfulness to what has been entrusted to him. As one reads further in 1 Corinthians, it’s plain to see that this means applying the gospel to specific areas that need addressing in the life of the church’s members.
- Christ must be preached humbly. The focus of the message is not the minister. Corinth was reeling from the plague of the personality party spirit. Some were for Apollos, some for Peter, some for Paul, and there is always the fun group who says they’re just for Christ (but in the same proud spirit). Refusing an opportunity to place himself at the forefront and amass more to his team, Paul writes that neither he nor other ministers are to preach themselves, but Christ. After all, ministers are servants and who really boasts in a servant?
- Christ must be preached wisely. The minister is to know the people with whom he ministers. He must present Christ to the specific need of each life and heart. The preacher who does not discern will be the preacher who may thunder but is never heard. Communicate to the people in a way they understand, and apply Christ in a way that leads them to love the Lord Jesus. Brooks says, “Ministers must not be like him…that gave straw to the dog and a bone to the ass; but they must suit all their discourses to the conditions and capacities of poor creatures, or else all will be lost” (3.214). Let us not lose our hearers by preaching Christ on a soapbox.
- Christ must be preached zealously & boldly. Paul desired no other message than the Lord Jesus Christ among the Christians at Corinth. His singular aim was to preach Christ. May that desire only increase in the minister’s heart. Of all the ways a minister’s preaching may be described, may it be said of him by his hearers that he earnestly preached Christ above all else.
- Christ must be preached laboriously & frequently. The goal here is not to preach in a way that the hearers labor painfully in sitting through the delivery. No, the minister is to labor always and steadfastly in the proclamation of Christ. There is to be no idleness or laziness in the preparation and delivery of preaching. Most likely, the less a minister labors in the study, the more the hearers will labor in the delivery.
- Christ must be preached exemplarily. Whether a minister likes it or not, his life reflects his message. No minister is perfect, to be sure. However, the reality of the need for forward movement in progressive sanctification is not the same as hypocrisy. Paul and Peter both remind the minister of the need to give attention to both doctrine and life as he is an example to the flock. This is a sobering and inescapable reality. People not only hear, they watch. May God grant grace to each minister to have Christ both heard and seen in his ministry.
- Christ must be preached experimentally. It is no surprise that Brooks mentions this immediately after the importance of giving attention to the minister’s way of life. Living like Christ follows experiencing the grace of Christ. A minister is not giving a detached delivery on some religious theory each Sunday. A minister is called to preach what he first sees and hears and receives from the Word. Praying over the text is a vital step in the preparation of presenting the text. May Christ first be applied to the minister before he seeks to apply Christ to the needs and issues in the hearts of his people. This produces ministers who are able to walk alongside the people he is called to serve with compassion and grace. Brooks says the alternative is to have ministers who are more like Caesar’s soldiers than Christ’s servants.
- Christ must be preached rightly. Application is not the easiest element of preaching. Right application requires a knowledge of the text, a knowledge of the people, and a knowledge of what it means to walk worthy of the gospel in the particular context we find ourselves. To preach Christ rightly means presenting and applying Him accurately. Brooks notes, “Doctrine is but the drawing of the bow, application is the hitting of the mark” (3.218). If we preach Christ but apply him only to the situation of a previous day or to Christians “out there,” then we are missing the mark.
- Christ must be preached acceptably. Our words about Christ should reflect the beauty of Christ. If a preacher is always harsh, the hearers will think of a harsh Christ. The message is weighty—this keeps the preacher from lightheartedness. The message is also earnest—therefore, the preacher is earnest. The message is also gracious—therefore, the minister is gracious. While Paul did not come with a cultural kind of eloquence, he did come with clarity, passion, and most importantly, the power of the Spirit.
- Finally, Christ must be preached constantly. There are many legitimate needs present in the church. But the minister is not the only one to meet them all. The church is a glorious body with many members, with a wide range of giftedness, and with two perpetual offices (elder and deacon). The minister’s primary task is to labor in Word and prayer, faithfully preaching the gospel of Christ. By doing so, the men and women in the church will be mobilized to show forth the love and grace of Christ through their giftings in the body, for the maturing and growth of the whole. May God grant that to each church through the faithful preaching of the whole Christ.
 Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), vol. 3, pgs. 10–220.