Do you have a burden for people to know and love Jesus more? If you are a Christian the answer here is certainly, “Yes.” This is the great cry of our hearts. Though, we admit, the cry is often muffled and not attended with appropriate zeal. For a host of reasons, we neglect the work of speaking of Christ and his gospel to others.
This is not a new problem. As long at there have been Christian witnesses there have been temptations toward evangelistic apathy. The 19th-century English pastor and author Charles Bridges writes in his book The Christian Ministry that we need more “parlour preaching.” He defines this as “the ability to introduce the subject of religion seasonably and acceptably into social intercourse.” This, Bridges says, “is one of the most valuable talents to the church.”
Some today have used the term Gospel Fluency to describe a similar work (see Jeff Vanderstelt’s Gospel Fluency). In short, ones who are fluent in the gospel have their mother tongue in the gospel. They see and hear the world through the gospel filter and demonstrate an ability to speak the gospel into the everyday stuff of life.
It is important to note here that one is a parlour preacher simply to the unconverted but also to confessing Christians. We have a responsibility to speak the Word of God to one another, not simply to those outside the church (Eph. 4:15; Heb. 3:12-13).
Bridges provides some helpful instructions toward this important task. I’ll update his language a bit and offer his thoughts below.
- The discipline is cultivated. Those who excel at this gift are not necessarily endowed by nature with an ability to speak the gospel to others but rather diligently stir up the gift of God in them.
- Maintain seriousness but not a tone of personal authoritativeness. Bridges warns against a pompous and abrasive authoritativeness in the parlour. Instead, blend your seriousness with Christian cheerfulness.
- Be careful not to be rude and abrupt. Pick your spots and attempt to swing from natural conversation to spiritual (gospel) matters.
- Pray for opportunities and for faithfulness. We tend to see what we pray for a lot more than if we did not.
- Make and take opportunities. When you have a burden, you will be more likely to see and take the opportunities God is providing you.
- Utilize Christian conversation in public. Talk with your brothers and sisters about spiritual matters in mixed company; it’s not a secret.
- Be humble when you speak. This is particularly the case among people who think they are something and you are not. Let the Word carry the authority and do the work.
- Pay attention to the news and cultural conversation. Some familiarity with what is going on in the world may buy you some time, which will allow you the opportunity to slide your pulpit into the parlour. Ask and answer how the gospel answers the fundamental problems and questions people are facing.
- Be courageous and trust God. “In this spirit of consideration, diligence, and faith, the feeblest efforts will be abundantly honoured; while the best-ordered conversation, in our own spirit, will prove ineffectual for the desired ends.”
I love that Bridges was wrestling through this issue nearly 200 years ago and that he was exhorting pastors toward it. This discipline is hard but important work. It requires us to be praying, prioritizing, and practicing our parlour preaching.