Few things can stir up a lively conversation among pastors as quickly as mentioning the role of the Holy Spirit in the church today. Some believe the gifts of the Spirit remain active, while others believe some of them ceased with the early church - and both views are perfectly acceptable among orthodox Christians. 

One thing we all can agree on, however you choose to define it, is the absolute necessity of having the Holy Spirit show up in power when we preach. This anointing has been understood in various ways throughout church history. If you read the ancients much, as well as many of God's choice preaching instruments even in our own day, you'll quickly understand that they longed to experience "The Presence" of Jesus in their ministry.

This longing is far more than a superficial penchant for a mystical experience. It was -- and is -- a clear understanding that preaching is essentially an encounter with the living Lord Jesus. And although Jesus is present everywhere and at all times, there are times, seasons and places where He chooses to manifest his presence in exceptional ways. Preaching and the Lord's Supper, for example, are two places where Jesus has committed His extraordinary presence.

Many church fathers experienced this special presence. So did men such as Robert Murray McCheynne (and many other Scottish divines), Evan Roberts, A.W. Tozer, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, Martin Bucer, George Whitefield, John Wesley, C.H. Spurgeon and D.L Moody. These men testify of encountering Jesus through preaching in such a way that hearts were melted; spiritual victories were gained; repentance and salvation were given; and a prevailing sense of love and affection for Jesus Himself was experienced.

This encounter with the Presence of Jesus often would happen during the preaching, or sometimes just before or after it. In the ministry of Evan Roberts (who ministered during the Welsh revival), the Presence would descend on the congregation when a particular young woman sang. The Spirit would break the hearts of the congregation even before Roberts preached.

What these servants sought and often experienced was, technically speaking, the present ministry of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament, and the book of Acts in particular, is the record of the Spirit's formation and influence on the early church. The Spirit of God blowing through the lives of people resulted in an incredible bearing of fruit, growth and blessing. Ministry and transformation happened as the Spirit chose to intersect with the lives of real people in real time. It is no different today, nor will it ever be. If we're going to experience lasting transformation through preaching, it will be the result of the Spirit's anointing of both pastor and congregation.

Throughout the history of the church, I have found, there are those who give testimony to the present and special ministry of the Holy Spirit. They are from a variety of theological backgrounds and perspectives. Although some have abused it and others through fear have avoided it, many give testimony to what it means to preach with the blessing and anointing of God. This is not a charismatic, Pentecostal, reformed, dispensational or fundamentalist issue. Call it what you want, but may we never preach merely from intellect, skill and flesh.

The anointing of the Spirit in your preaching is everything.

  • It is what grants the freedom, power, authority and connection with your congregation that transcends your normal abilities.  
  • It's what takes the earthen offering you make and transforms it into a spiritual vessel.  
  • It's what makes preaching more than oratory.  
  • It's what makes communication an encounter with the divine.  
  • It's what reaps spiritual fruit.  
  • And it's what brings about God's purpose and kingdom on earth.

One way I practically demonstrate my longing and desire for the Spirit's anointing is through spending time in prayer with a group of people before I speak.  To kneel together, with their hands on me as a sign of blessing and faith, and pray for the Spirit to fill and use me. Then, when I leave to preach, they remain in the room and pray for me throughout the entire service. Without a doubt, this has been a power source in my preaching life. I sense their prayer and often can tangibly feel God's answer to their prayers on my behalf.

Congregations also can experience the anointing of the Spirit. The Spirit must energize and open people's hearts if they are to receive the blessing of the preached Word. The congregation is as needy of the Spirit's touch as the pastor. Without the Spirit, our congregation is just an audience rather than a flock of hungry souls. Encourage your congregations to pray and prepare for their encounter with Jesus on Sunday morning. We need to move our congregations beyond just showing up for church and lead them into the attitude of preparing for and expecting to experience the presence of Christ.