Can Anyone Tell Me What Preaching Is For?

Not my question, but Kester Brewin’s question the other day. Kester of The Complex Christ. Kester who muses while asking the question,

I’m really not sure anymore. Not that I particularly used to be, though it’s something I’ve enjoyed doing myself in the past.

And that’s what worries me: people who do it, enjoy it. The select chosen few get their weekly 20 minutes to show us how clever they are at public speaking.

If we were serious about discipleship, would we have sermons? Clearly not. No discussion. No interruption. No comeback. No further comment. I’m not trying to be crude or sensational, but I do wonder sometimes if it is really rather akin to spiritual masturbation.

Hey, Kester said it, not me. But it does make me wonder — I think he’s got a point here. The discussion of preaching and of the role of the sermon is a recurring theme around here…. that is to say, it has been mentioned here in the past. It seems a little absurd that each time the church congregates, that one predetermined guy in the room “has the goods” for everyone there, every time. Hey, this one isn’t just my idea either. Not that I’ve never heard a good sermon, or even that I’ve never been surprised how deeply some people can be impacted by it, but it often seems to me that the person who gets the most out of the sermon can tend to be the preacher.


  1. Hey

  2. Hey, you are getting personal now…wait not just you, but others. It makes me wonder than if we need sermons at all? Why? Heck ya…let’s just let everyone read what they want to into scripture…forget the point of studying…if scripture is so easy to understand then why do people “ask the pastor, elder, prof?” Not to say that they have the answers but there is still an implied trust there. Sorry for the outburst.

    I can understand the frustration of people having to listen to a talking head(especially mine), but in the same breath…does that not spark the brain waves. After all everyone watches the TV for an hour and then they talk about what they watched for days. Preaching is a primer to discussion and interaction.

    As I look into the New Testament preaching was part of what the disciples did, and would argue that Jesus did the same. Preaching is also a spiritual gift. I believe what gets lost in the whole aspect of preaching in today’s culture is that people not only need to hear but also need to interact with the subject and even the speaker. If the speaker just steps out of his room to share, then retreats and is unapproachable, then what is the point. Is it not the job of the preacher to raise questions, to guide, to instruct, all which leads to dialogue? Just some random thoughts…I hope it makes sense.

  3. Well, let’s see if it had a use to the Apostles and Jesus. Hmm. YES!! The Sermon on the Mount is my daily meditation and quide. it is a pretty useful sermon. Preaching is like a sacrament. A man is given the awesome responsibility for speaking the Gospel for God to God’s people. It is absolutely beautiful and awesome. For large corporate gatherings, there is hardly a better way to celebrate our faith together except for maybe the Lord’s Supper. Of course, it doesn;t take the place of discipleship or works of service for actual life transformation but that isn’t the point. The sermon is for celebration, proclamation, and encouragtement.

  4. I’m not so sure there’s anything wrong with preaching per se–whether done in a lecture format or a dialogue or one-on-one. It’s what is said that’s the problem. How many follow a point about dying to self with helping in the nursery; becoming committted to Christ with leading a small group; spreading the Good News with inviting people to church? (Can you say self-serving horse manure?)

    Preaching (regardless of the container) is fine. It’s the content that’s busted. Can we preach about the Good News of the Kingdom instead of Bad News of the Religious.

  5. I think the method and the message are broken. Ok, we can find some places where the message is ok, but then the method..

    Seriously, for how long now have we known that we remember 10% of what we hear?

    For how long now have we known that a speech is one of the worst transformative methods?

    Question: summarize the three sermons that changed your life? How many could do it?

    Question: summarize the three people who changed your life? Most of us could identify a couple.

    Friendship, conversation, and crisis… these are the ways we learn.

    Having said all that, is there a place for teaching? Sure. My kids live with me, watch me, and do what I do… and occasionally endure a bit of teaching ;)

  6. btw, on RESONATE we’ve been talking about the way we use Scripture. I have greatly enjoyed the places and times where long passages have been read publicly. Not TOO long, but more than a few verses…

  7. I think I’ll agree that preaching per say is not the problem, although I also think that we could benefit from the example of the Anglican church (as Maynard says). I love the short homily combined with singing, litergy and scripture reading. I think that this would take alot of pressure off of the pastor. Some churches wind up looking like the “Pastor X Show”, and I think that’s something we’d all rather avoid. There’s no reason to drop the idea of pastoral leadership per se, but re-inventing the format of sunday services – or going back to a liturgical format – may be beneficial for certain church contexts.

  8. I think one of the dangers of preaching, is when it’s done in a vacuum – when there is no input or give and take in the process of preparing a message. I’ve been on our worship design team now for a year and it has given me a whole new insight into the messages each week. This team of folks, including the pastors, discuss scripture and brainstorm themes. The whole congregation is invited to participate by following along each week in something called a transformation journal (A Roadtrip with Jesus that we discovered at Ginghamsburg). And we’ve just started to customize a children’s ministry curriculum to match up the themes each week.

  9. Kim,

    Interesting. At my CLB we did just that. Tuned the material for adults, youth, and children to be the same topic. Small group questions were developed based on the sermon so questions could be asked in a more intimate setting. If children had questions, they could ask parents who were studying the same thing. Sounds great, eh? Not so much.

    Preaching is not teaching. It is done in a focused way to a broad audience. You can’t expect people hearing a message “cold” to “get” more than one thing out of a 20 minute speech. You also are talking to everything from 80 year old cradle Christians to first-time-in-a-church folks.

    After we started, it fell apart. The adults needed a different focus, youth needed more of “why are we here”, children needed backgound material, small groups needed meat. If anything this elevates the sermon further to not only the climax of the service but to the end-all be-all for the body.

    Grey Owl,

    The cool thing about litugical styles is that the climax of the service is where it belongs–at communion. Isn’t that why we assemble as a body–to identify ourselves with each other and with Christ in communion? All this stressing out about the sermon shows where our focus is–in the wrong place.

  10. We’ve given the sermon on the mount its label, same with the sermon on the plain; really what we have of Jesus’ sermons are the apostles’ notes and memories… anything on presentation is largely inferred. Jesus had dialogue in his sermons as well, not merely monologue like the modern sermon has become — no interaction. Jesus taught in parables and took everyday objects and situations as the material for conveying his message. This was all directed toward common people who did not have books at home for study, but who were a deeply religious people with a lot of oral tradition and teaching.

    All that to say I don’t think it necessarily follows that because Jesus and the apostles used this tool in this way to reach their culture, that we should do the same. We don’t preach in the Synagogues anymore, we went and built our own churches for that. Our milieu is not predominantly a common (or any) religion, or even culture or ethnicity. We don’t have the luxury of being a rabbi passing through town that draws everyone to hear him… we compete with 235 television channels and the multiplex across the mall parking lot.

    What am I saying? I’m not saying that the message need be changed to provide more ear candy or that that it needs to be dumbed down for the “ADD Generation” or that it really needs more multimedia. Some of these may help, and all have been tried (I enjoyed Finney’s list of ways not to preach, and I think I noticed many of them being tried anyway down at your friendly neighbourhood megachurch) with varying degrees of “success” — however that’s defined.

    I, for one, enjoy good expository preaching and mourn its loss in most churches today. This is however not the kind of preaching that is necessarily going to touch our culture, and is not the type that Jesus (apparently) engaged in.

    I think the question isn’t as much whether preaching should take place, it’s the precise mode of doing so that requires a bit of revisitation. If our postmodern context dislikes arrogant absolutism, then a discussion format might seem more welcome than a classroom teaching style… the same message can be communicated, but wit a slightly shifted mode of communication, perhaps it can be more effective.

    Recall how most of us have changed our modes of worship, shifting from hymns to choruses and contemporary musical styles. When hymns were the form of worship in churches, they were laced with theology… and in learning the hymns and the tunes (yes we all know that “A Mighty Fortress” was the original German Drinking Song), people were “inadvertently” learning theology which was good because they were a far less literate people than we are today. This is not an apologetic for anemically-worded choruses, but an illustration that our music has changed over time, as have cultural musical styles and the functional requirements of the church for the the music… i.e., we no longer look at our music as a means of teaching theology (I think maybe we should, but that’s a whole ‘nuther discussion).

    Is there a fundamental reason that our current styles of preaching should be viewed as timeless and not subject to a similar reconsideration as our music has been? Why would we dress up one part of the Sunday gathering to contextualize it for our milieu, but not do this for another part of the gathering?

    I may be accused of just wanting to keep deconstructing everything only to ultimately and necessarily reconstruct just what we’d had to start with. My observation whenever I’ve done just that has been thatn once it’s reassembled, at least I understand it, how it works, and why.

    Remember, I’m just thinking out loud here….

  11. Bro,

    A couple thoughts. You mention worship. Now, it is used as a tool to set a tone, prepare a congregation for “the word”. What is the role of worship in Scripture? Did it come before or after and encounter with God?

    You mention “enjoying expository preaching”. In Acts 2, when it talks about “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” should the focus be on the apostles, the teaching, or the devotion? Do you hear preaching to be entertained or transformed? Personally, when I hear real transformative preaching, “enjoy” isn’t a word I’d use to describe my reaction. Convicted, torn heart, illumined, spurred on, maybe. But if we are competing with 235 channels and the multiplex, I guess entertainment is the goal.

    Finally, if we deconstruct and then reconstruct with the same pieces, it’s busy-work. IMHO, the reconstruction process will involve “new pieces” otherwise, like worship, it’ll just be the same ol’ pig’s snout with a new ring.

    Just thinking out loud as well.

  12. Bob, I like your out-loud thoughts here.

    On worship, I would say it is an encounter with God… not before or after, but integral — without being a prerequisite, if that makes sense.

    On “enjoying” preaching, as you outline it here, I’ve chosen the wrong word, as this is not the sense I intend… good expository preaching on one text increases my understanding, which expands or magnifies God in my mind, which in turn sparks worship. On another text, it will expand my understanding of what God is like and how we should then respond, which challenges me in how I live (and hopefully that creates change!). Entertainment is not the goal, but I wonder how the package need be presented to achieve the goal, which perhaps we can say (at least provisionally) is spiritual formation.

    Good point to bring up Acts 2 (42-47 iirc). I’ve always seen this as a good model to emulate, but the question might be asked if that is supposed to be normative or if it was simply what happened in their experience at that time, in those early days. I hope it’s a lasting model to strive toward…

    Busy-work, perhaps… but there’s a healthy process in asking questions to validate the “default” expressions and practices, especially in such times as shifting generations, cultures, or even epochs if we see modernity/post-modernity in this fashion. I fully expect that in the deconstruction we’ll rediscover the goal and reconstruct something that is specifically designed to achieve it in the context we now find ourselves.

    I’m finding this discussion quite helpful… a good example of why blogging needs (at least) a two-way exchange. Further ideas — anyone?

  13. It’s only right and typical that the minister (of any sort, whether professional or merely as all believers ought to be) should get the most out of the ministry unless the ministrees (…?) choose to get more out of it. That’s part of free will. If ministers are obeying God, they’re going to be blessed through that, and if it’s their spiritual gift to teach, then they will probably take a great deal of joy in offering what wisdom they have to offer to their congregation. If they are NOT obeyying God, that’s another issue.

  14. There are many aspects of the Christian life, and different spiritual gifts lead people to focus on different commandments and promises. We should all be sharing our joys in Christ with our fellow believers as in… I believe it was the Quaker services. If fellowship consisted MERELY of unbridled debates, socializing, and spontaneous collaborated outreach, however, it would make it FAR too easy for the deceptions of the enemy to worm their way into and poison the church body, to say nothing of the surrounding community. Someone is assigned the task of keeping matters focussed on the Truth… someone who can devote much time to studying the word of the Lord, because it’s their profession, is assigned the task of keeping an eye on how God is represented in his/her congregation and staff, and if the minister majors on minors, then that’s also a separate issue. It frightens the bejeebers out of me how many people I encounter who ‘gave Christianity a try’, only to be turned off by some WAY OFF representation of Christ. SCARY, scary, scary… Not that ministers are perfect, or that the responsibility of ministry should be consentrated upon a few select believers, of course, but SOME of us have to be the visionaries- to have a fairly sound idea of what we’re going for, and to have the courage, ideally, to admit it when they DON’T know something. None of us were INTENDED to know EVERYTHING… that’s where room for personal growth in God comes into the picture.

  15. “On worship, I would say it is an encounter with God… not before or after, but integral — without being a prerequisite, if that makes sense.”

    Hold the phone… If worship is first about a life lived toward God, and only incidentally about a two hour time slot when believers gather… how would that alter our thinking about the frame within which teaching/exhortation occurs? I think we are partaking of a certain dualism, and until we move beyond it we are going to merely shift the deck chairs, the ship will lumber on in the same direction.

    So.. where do we encounter God? Really.. it is wherever we are tuned in. It certainly doesn’t require any kind of gathering and it doesn’t require preachers. Rather.. “only he sees who takes off his shoes.”

  16. Worship, like the rest of our Christian walk, is a journey. By that I mean that not everyone is at the same place; so when we try to force a “mature” understanding that worship is NOT a corporate experience, we cut people (most notably new believers, youth and children) out of an opportunity to experience the manifest presence of God with other believers.

    Yes, worship is much more than singing songs with other Christians, but how many of us started with that realization, and is it possible that we do a grave disservice to others when we insist that worship (and teaching) cater to our agenda, in such a manner in which the younger (spiritually and chronologically) are unable to connect, and begin to view worship/teaching as something so far over their heads that they either tune it all out, or they “emerge” from our emerging groups in search of something that will feed them?

    I have a number of friends who were raised in the Plymouth Brethren movement, and they have many stories of being bored into stagnation by people with no teaching ability, no real content, and an axe to grind, because of their (generally praiseworthy) commitment to not having only one voice do all the teaching.

    If the sermon is “broken”, then let’s fix it, not discard it.

  17. I know Maynard wants to post this later sometime, but let me also put in my two cents that worship songwriters need to work a lot harder to present good theology in their songs.

    iTunes and iPods are everywhere. People listen to music constantly. Imagine what a great teaching tool this would be, if only some of the songwriters would recognize the opportunity before them.

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