Communication is getting easier and harder all at the same time. The sleekest most advanced device only stays that way for a short time. Under Covid restrictions we could communicate in ways no-one in any earlier pandemic could have. We could go to church even when we could not meet.
Suddenly our world was zoomified. And podified. And youtubified. But maybe the oldest form of communication might just be the one to choose.
I mean preaching. Talking, to a crowd, whether big or small.
There’s a saying, “The age of preaching is dead” , that some contemporary commentators are throwing around. Some are suggesting that a minister sharing God’s word in a formal talk for 20, 30, 40 or 50 minutes is no longer relevant. Maybe a discussion time would work better. Maybe interview the congregation. “Preaching is not dead yet” is my reposte.
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Many helpful scholars have emphasised, “preaching” is no longer limited to the monologue a Minister or lay church member gives from the pulpit on a Sunday during a service. However for our purposes here, in order to tackle the question around the age of preaching being dead, we are going to focus predominantly on this form of preaching sermons.”
The “Why” of Christian Preaching
There are hundreds of good, readable books written on the “how” of Christian preaching. There are books around engaging an audience, wrestling with the Scriptures well, structuring a sermon in an interesting way, and a whole host of other important and helpful preaching ideas. But the one problem that all of these books have in common is that they all assume that we actually should be preaching in the first place.
Very little is written on the “why” of Christian preaching. Why does preaching even matter? Why should we even bother preaching sermons in church,rather than simply sticking to singing, praying and enjoying fellowship with one another?
You may very well struggle to find books on the importance of Christian preaching on many minister’s bookshelves. Most of them will skip this step, assuming it’s the good and right thing to do, and jump straight into the specifics of how to preach a good sermon.
But we don’t just want to participate in a certain ecclesiological practice simply because it’s a tradition of the church! We need to ensure that everything we do in church right now is good and beneficial for our brothers and sisters who sit either side of us in the pews on a Sunday. So how do we work out whether preaching sermons is something that is beneficial to the church and worth carrying on with? Is the age of preaching dead or not? I’d like to suggest two arguments in defence of preaching in the church: The biblical reason for preaching sermons, and the experiential reason for preaching sermons.
The Biblical Reason for Preaching Sermons in the Church
The primary reason why preaching must be at the heart of absolutely everything we do is because we want to see God glorified above all else. As we read in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for theglory of God.” Everything that we should want to do in our Sunday service needs to be done to bring God glory. So how does preaching glorify God?
The first way that preaching glorifies God is that it fulfils the mandate of Matthew 28, wherein Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of theFather and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Preaching is an active method of making disciples! Importantly, many people misconstrue this passage to mean something like, “Go out and convert non-Christians.” However, the passage emphasises that Christians need to make disciples. This is discipleship which includes both evangelism, sharing the gospel with unbelievers, and spiritual discipleship, growing and encouraging fellow believers in the gospel.
Importantly, the way in which Jesus commands his disciples to do this is by “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” So, guess what… yes, Jesus’ commands, instructions, words and deeds are found in his Word. Preaching the Word and, more specifically, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, glorifies God.
The second way that preaching glorifies God, and another reason biblically why we need to continue to preach sermons in church today, is because Jesus himself set the example of preaching. This means that by preaching we are imitating Jesus and following in his footsteps.
As Lloyd-Jones argues, “In the gospels, and in the life and ministry of our Lord himself, you have this clear indication of the primacy of preaching and teaching.”
As we read the Scriptures, it is clear that Jesus spends much of his earthly ministry preaching the good news. This can be seen in such passages as Mark 1:14-15, John 3:16-21, Matthew 5 and Luke 16:1-15, among a whole host of other passages. If Jesus felt that preaching was an effective tool for ministry or, as Lloyd-Jones would argue, the effective tool for ministry, then we should feel the same way. After all, Paul does encourage the believers to, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
The Experiential Reason for Preaching Sermons in the Church
As we explore the “why” of Christian preaching here, we’ll also begin to see that the “why” and the “how” are inherently intertwined. So, the second way that preaching glorifies God is because good preaching engages people well with God’s Word.
There’s two parts to this idea of how good preaching glorifies God: it engages people and engages them with God’s Word. Let’s start with the latter, that of engaging people well with God’s Word. Good preaching has to be rooted in Scripture and pointing people back to God. As emphasised in both Jeremiah 9:24 and later in 1 Corinthians 1:31, every boast we have must be in God alone. Good preaching is centred on the Word of God and points people towards him by emphasising the good news of Jesus.
As we’ve already explored, everything we do should be based around giving God the glory. Furthermore, as Peter instructs in 1 Peter 5:1-4, the shepherding of the flock, the congregation that we have been entrusted with, is crucial. What better way is there to glorify God in shepherding the flock he has entrusted us with than to teach people about who God is?
Preaching remains relevant because it points people towards our triune God and is centred on him. And yet, good preaching must also engage the congregation. As Hawkins emphasises, good preaching is not just about being faithful, but also about being effective.
Good preaching is not just about exegesis, hermeneutics and all the wrestling with the text that happens before a sermon is given. Rather, almost as importantly, good preaching is about crafting an engaging sermon. If you preach the truth from the pulpit, but don’t engage anyone, your sermon has only reached half of its potential and ultimately achieved nothing.
We actually need to be greatly intentional with our sermons. We need to be writing sermons in such a way that recognises the audience we’re preaching to and engages with them emotionally. We need to be demonstrating how the gospel speaks into the lives of people today in our preaching. We need to be emphasising the infinite character of our God in a way that challenges and encourages people in the faith. We need to successfully engage people with God’s Word.
This is why the “how” is so important. So many preachers can wrestle with God’s Word personally, but don’t know how to share it in a way that leaves the audience engaged (or maybe even awake) for the duration of the sermon.
In some ways, this is actually also the “why” of preaching. We have a prime opportunity in those short few minutes that we get on the platform to share the gospel in a direct and engaging way. This is something that no other segment in the service has! If we do this unsuccessfully, the sermon loses this opportunity. But if we can do it successfully, preaching the word will really become the irreplaceable and central part of the service each week.
So the age of preaching is dead, or is it? Much has been written in contemporary scholarship about the “how” of preaching, with the assumption that preaching is a good and healthy thing for the church. As we’ve seen briefly here, ensuring we understand the “why” of preaching is absolutely foundational to any book on the “how” of preaching. And why should we preach?
Well, Biblically we are instructed to do so, meaning that God thinks it was in God’s design for his church, and experientially we realise that it is of great benefit to the church to continue in the tradition of preaching.
No one summarises the necessity of preaching today better than Martyn Lloyd- Jones, who writes, “I would say without any hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.”
Preaching must remain a heartbeat of our churches for many millennia to come, as preachers proclaim the truth about Christ in a clear, succinct and engaging way, drawing believers closer to their Heavenly Father, for the glory of God. No, the age of preaching is not dead. We simply need to ensure that we work hard to keep it alive as we give God the glory through faithful proclamation of the Scriptures week in and week out!
Benjamin Razey is the Integration minister at St. Paul’s Anglican Church Castle Hill in Sydney.
1 Michael Rogness, Preaching to a TV Generation (Lima: CSS Publishing, 1994), 9.
2 See Phillip D. Jensen & Paul Grimmond, The Archer and The Arrow (Kingsford: Matthias, 2010), 11-12.
3 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and the Preachers (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1971), 20.
4 Tim Hawkins, Preach Like a Train Driver (Baulkham Hills: Disciples Unlimited, 2013), 7.
5 Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and the Preachers, 7.