KANSAS CITY, Mo – Midwestern Seminary hosted Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas on campus for the Spurgeon Lectures on Preaching on November 1-2.
Thomas, who serves as the Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, lectured during two chapel services and joined President Jason Allen for a Q&A and luncheon.
“Having Dr. Thomas on campus to deliver our ninth annual Spurgeon Lectures was a real joy,” said President Jason Allen. “In a time of increasing pastoral cynicism and complaints of pastoral burnout, it was particularly encouraging to hear Dr. Thomas speak of the glorious reality that it is to preach God’s word and to pastor God’s people.”
Thomas’ first lecture summarized the preaching standards written by the Westminster Assembly of Divines in the Westminster Directory for Public Worship, which includes a 4-page summary of the task of preaching.
He began with a focus on the qualifications for preaching. Explaining the heart of a preacher’s identity, he said, “Though Scripture refers to preachers by many words, a preacher is first and foremost a workman.”
The next section continued with the preacher’s qualifications of giftedness and holiness. If a preacher is not gifted to preach, he explained, then he is not fit for the ministry. He also stated the importance of holiness in the life of the preacher, saying, “Make sure the text speaks to you first.” He referenced Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “The greatest need of my people is my own personal holiness.”
He also addressed the nature of preaching in his opening lecture. He spoke to the importance of expounding the text and preaching expositionally, but he also reminded the audience of the need to expound the congregation and preach directly to the needs of the people in each congregation.
Thomas’ final point focused on principles of preaching from the Westminster Divines. In this section, he mentioned several key ideas on the preaching task including the need for balance in Scripture selection, order of the sermon outline, doctrinal preaching, the need for a main point, and humility in the task.
He concluded his opening lecture by saying, “There’s nothing like the calling to be a preacher. What a privilege it is for a sinner to be called to be an ambassador for Christ in the kingdom of God.”
Following the lecture, Thomas joined President Allen for a Q&A and luncheon with students, staff, and faculty.
Luncheon and Q&A
During the luncheon conversation, Thomas spoke to the timelessness of the Westminster Directory of Worship, the importance of exegeting a congregation, his weekly schedule in preaching, and the fall of pastors.
He also spoke to the next generation of pastors and ministry leaders. He said, “I’m impressed by their zeal. They are ready to give their lives to the gospel and to a life of ministry. That really warms my heart. The future of the Church is in really good hands.”
“On the other side, though, they are products of the culture in which they live. However hard they resist it, there are elements of the culture that manifests itself in a sense of entitlement. They will have to deal with that in the church.”
Thomas mentioned his hopes for the next generation of the Church, saying, “I fear for the next generation. I think they’ll be tested in ways that I wasn’t. Having to defend the notion of truth or history is difficult.”
He went on, “The future church is facing a form of secular authoritarianism that’s frightening, but not dissimilar to what the second century church experienced in Rome before Constantine. I think the church today needs to learn how the church survived in the second century in order to be able to survive this century.”
The next day, Thomas delivered his second lecture on preaching. He continued unpacking the Westminster Directory for Public Worship, focusing this lecture on the method and application of preaching.
Beginning with the method of preaching, Thomas said, “All fruitful preaching combines both light and heat. It should transform the whole person including the mind, will, and affections.”
He also addressed in greater detail the importance of exegeting the congregation. As he explained, preachers must know how to apply the text to a variety of different people and situations. Knowing each person allows the preacher to address each in a way that draws the whole congregation to Christ.
Thomas referenced the puritan William Perkins in applying the sermon to seven possible categories of those in the congregation. He said, “To the hardhearted, we must stress the law. In so doing, we pray they will be brought to their knees.”
To the seeker, he continued, “You must make Jesus the most attractive person they have ever encountered in order to woo them to find their fullness and completeness in Jesus Christ.”
He referenced several other of Perkins categories of sermon attendees including how to address the young believer with no knowledge, the mature believer with no zeal, and the backslider.
Thomas also spoke to different types of sermon application, such as doctrinal and reproving application. To encourage attendees to engage in the difficult task of reproving others, he said, “If they know you love them, they also know you will tell them hard things because you love them. If they know you love them, you can tell them anything.”
To conclude his final lecture, Thomas reminded attendees that the style of preaching should be seriousness, in humility, and out of a deep love for the people.
“The overall impression I want to leave after a lengthy period of ministry in a congregation is that this is a congregation that loves the Lord Jesus and finds Him beautiful. They love the gospel and never get tired of it. They understand that this is the most important thing in all the world.”