Pastoral Preaching: Building a People for God

Conrad Mbewe, Pastoral Preaching: Building a People for God. Carlisle, England: Langham Partnership, 2017. $20.99.

Every year Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson hosts the John Reed Miller Preaching Lectures. Guest ministers speak to various aspects of the life and work of the minister. Both students and veteran preachers leave encouraged in the Lord.

Our 2015 lecturer was Conrad Mbewe, who for three decades has pastored Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia. I found his lectures to be among the best I have heard on preaching. The instruction was clear, direct, and winsome, offering entirely satisfying nuts-and-bolts counsel to the preacher. Judging by the feedback, students were as personally renewed in their commitment to biblical preaching as I was.

The publication of Mbewe’s Pastoral Preaching: Building a People for God escaped my notice until late last year. I was thrilled to find it contains much of the material from his RTS lectures.

The term itself – pastoral preaching – is beautiful. For those who are called to shepherd congregations, preaching must never be separated from pastoral care. Instead, it must be regarded as a distinct and critical component of it. Although this book was written with an African audience in mind, any Western preacher will benefit from reading it carefully and prayerfully.

The book is divided into seven sections:

  • What Pastoral Preaching Is
  • Where Pastoral Preaching Is Done
  • How We Train for Pastoral Preaching
  • The Challenges of Pastoral Preaching
  • Using the Whole Bible in Pastoral Peaching
  • Power for Pastoral Preaching
  • The Rewards of Pastoral Preaching

At the outset, Mbewe distinguishes between the goals of evangelistic preaching and pastoral preaching. The former aims to gather sinners into the church. Pastoral preaching, on the other hands, strives “to help those who have come to Christ grow spiritually” (9); it teaches old and new believers alike “to obey everything that Jesus, their Lord and Savior, said they should do” (13). The pastoral preacher’s work is “shepherding God’s flock through God’s Word,” and is entirely devoted to the health and safety of his flock (17). The question, “Is my preaching producing lives that are glorifying God?”, is always at the forefront of his mind (26). Without pastoral preaching, new believers fail to reach spiritual maturity.

Pastoral preaching is grounded in the church, and the relationship between them is mutually edifying. The pastoral preacher depends upon the church’s support (chapter 4) and the church benefits from pastoral preaching (chapter 5). The relationship is symbiotic (47). Chapter 6 works out in specific detail what that symbiotic relationship must look like. For the pastor, it begins with loving his flock and for the church, treasuring her preacher (57,60).

One of the benefits of pastoral preaching is that it attracts mature believers (53). We live in mobile societies; significant numbers of people move to new communities each year. The church that attracts mature believers will be more stable and better prepared to serve, as well as offering commendable role models to new believers. A church without purpose flounders, so every congregation needs pastoral preaching that summons its people to fulfill their God-given duties to the world and to one another (54-55).

In “How We Train for Pastoral Preaching,” Mbewe offers wise counsel on mentoring, courses of study, and the role of pastoral fellowship in promoting strong pulpit ministries. Many pastors are defensive when congregants offer criticism of their preaching; this is foolish. The pastor must listen to constructive criticism, even looking upon it as a blessing (92).

“Using the Whole Bible in Pastoral Preaching” offers concise and helpful counsel on how to construct a sermon and preach from the Bible’s several literary genres.

Mbewe explores the pastor’s hidden life with care: his study, prayer, and cultivation of godliness. Each element is indissolubly linked as a key to power for pastoral preaching. “Take it as a general rule,” he warns, “the day you lose your godliness is the day you lose your power in pastoral preaching” (161).

The final section mines the New Testament, extracting those rewards that pastoral preachers may expect to see as they minister faithfully now, and for those anticipated on the day of Jesus’ return. Weary and discouraged ministers are strengthened to persevere with that glorious day in view.

What I Find Attractive About this Book

Its brevity. With an economy of words, Mbewe explains what is and is not the work of the preacher. No small amount of church controversy erupts because pastors and congregations hold widely divergent views about what constitutes pulpit ministry and pastoral work. Not only preachers, but also church officers would do well to read and discuss this book as they strive to reach a shared view of the preacher and his work.

Its accessibility. In addition to ordained preachers, innumerable lay preachers throughout the world do yeoman service in supplying pulpits in underserved areas. Pastoral Preaching will assist them in understanding the preacher’s work and point them to the resources at their disposal for their ministries in isolated places, far removed from seminaries and academic libraries, and where meagre income precludes the purchase of more than a handful of books. There is no technical jargon that would hinder a thoughtful reader without a seminary education. Elders will find counsel in how to identify those called to ministry, aid them in their preparation, and support them in their work.

Its modeling of clear teaching. One way teachers learn to teach – perhaps the most important of all – is following the example of good teachers. They demonstrate what to teach and how to teach. Mbewe excels as a teacher. His expositions of biblical passages are clear and faithful to the text. Applications are aimed at the heart. The book is a clinic on how to use illustrations effectively.

Its directness. The author gets to his points with no wasted words. An example: pastors must prepare good sermons despite their other demanding responsibilities. “A busy pastorate is no excuse for poor sermons.” Even when the preacher’s week is hectic and busy, his congregation should leave Sunday service convinced “that a whole week must have been devoted to nothing else but preparing [the sermon]” (70).

I enthusiastically recommend Pastoral Preaching. For young ministers, it provides a reliable roadmap to a God-glorifying and Christ-honoring pulpit ministry. To those of us who have traveled down the long road of pastoral ministry, it’s well worth checking the map to make sure we’re on course.

Charles Malcolm Wingard
Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson