I have been slowly journeying through the first volume of Iain Murray’s two-volume biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939 [Banner of Truth, 1982]) and have been at various points taken in by the Welsh preacher’s aversion to self-absorption and to ‘bells and whistles’ in ministry even in the midst of his apparent pastoral fervor and spiritual vitality. Indeed, in this aversion to anything like the personality-driven ministries that are so prevalent in our time, ‘the Doctor’ might have even resented this blog post, were he still alive. Nevertheless, certain dimensions of his story are, I think, remarkably suggestive for Christian ministry today and are worthy of our consideration.
A couple of the episodes recorded by Murray distill Lloyd-Jones’s commitment to getting himself out of the way in the proclamation of the gospel and to ensuring that the church was borne along by the power of God’s word and Spirit rather than by clever human devices. For Lloyd-Jones’s initial visit to preach at Aberavon, the site of his soon-to-be first pastorate, the church secretary (E. T. Rees) had put up a large poster to advertise the advent of the exciting prospective minister. Murray relates the Doctor’s response:
‘I don’t like that, don’t do it again,’ he told E. T. Rees in authoritative tones (p. 119).
Murray also tells of Lloyd-Jones’s proclivity to avoid talking about himself in his sermons:
References to himself in his sermons were brief and rare. Anything in the way of a testimony to his conversion experience was almost wholly absent. The omission was not an oversight on his part but the result of deep convictions. For one thing, he noticed that the giving of testimonies tended to reduce all conversions to a similar pattern, to standardise experience in a way which went beyond Scripture. And yet, at the same time, testimony-givers were prone to emphasise what made their story noteworthy. No doubt the motives were often well-intentioned, but the effect could easily be carnal and man-centered (p. 150).
As to Lloyd-Jones’s insistence on simplicity in ministry and church life, Murray narrates that, when the Welshman began his pastoral work in Aberavon he had no intention of following others in their zeal for various activities that were attached to the church (musical evenings, a dramatic society, etc.).
In the event, Lloyd-Jones had nothing to say about any new programme. To the surprise of the church secretary he seemed to be exclusively interested in the purely ‘traditional’ part of church life, which consisted of the regular Sunday services (at 11am and 6pm), a prayer meeting on Mondays and a mid-week meeting on Wednesdays. Everything else could go, and thus those activities particularly designed to attract outsiders soon came to an end. The demise of the dramatic society posed a practical problem, namely, what to do with the wooden stage which occupied a part of the church hall? ’You can heat the church with it,’ the new minister told the committee….The Sunday sermons were, indirectly, to indicate the meaning of these and other changes. The church was to advance, not by approximating to the world, but rather by representing in the world the true life and privilege of the children of God. The fundamental need was for the church to recover an understanding of what she truly is (p. 135).
What do you make of these emphases found in Lloyd-Jones’s life and words? If you find them salutary, what might we do to cultivate them in our churches? If you find them to miss the mark, in what ways?