This instalment of the “Relevance” series is a bit of a treat – because I didn’t have to write it! First guest blogger! Let me introduce you to Tom Postlethwaite. Tom is one of my favourite people to kick around ideas with. He’s been a Christian since he was 14 and is currently studying a Bachelor of Theology, after having felt the call towards Pastoring – a call which was seen first by a bunch of people around him (often a good indicator/confirmation)! He lists his hobbies as “cricket and Netflix” and neglected to mention in his bio that he’s a pretty handy drummer who has the rare knack of being able to run a worship service from the drum kit. So there’s that too. When I kicked off the “relevance” topic on the blog, he mentioned to me that he had thoughts about preaching…aaaand I hadn’t even thought about it. So here it is! Why preaching is still relevant today. Thanks Tom Pos!
“A sermon often does a man most good when it makes him most angry. Those people who walk down the aisles and say, “I will never hear that man again,” very often have an arrow rankling in their breast.”
– Charles Spurgeon –
When was the last time you heard a message you disagreed with? Not because it was theologically bad, but because it really challenged you about how you go about your life. How often have you made a big change in your life when a preacher confronted you with the truth found in God’s Word? I would say far too seldom in this day and age.
The preaching of yesteryear, by impassioned people like Charles Spurgeon, has seemingly been lost – lost to the instant-culture we are now a part of, lost to people who want to be comfortable and not challenged, lost to the money-grab that has become some mega-churches. Pastors begin pleading with their congregation not to go elsewhere, rather than pleading that people hear the gospel and be changed by it.
We may not want to go back to being pricked by a sermon’s challenging sting but, if Christianity is to thrive in a post-Christian world, we need to.
Preaching has two main components to it: teaching and proclaiming. It seems that, in this individual-centric culture, teaching is being prioritized over proclaiming. It is easy to see why: teaching is far easier than proclaiming. Teaching appeals to the audience’s idea that we have control over the message we hear. Half-an-hours’ worth of preaching summarized in one, or a few, neat take-home lessons – packaged with a live concert and the promise of a comfortable seat awaiting us next week.
Is that not what preaching is supposed to be about? Is that not how Jesus did it?
Like I said, this is a part of good preaching. Jesus taught all the time, using parables and stories as his main teaching method. He desired for his audiences to learn truths about the world and the kingdom, and teaching them via stories was a great way to do so. Take Jesus’ section of parables found in Matthew 13, for example. When we read it in our Bibles today, we find it broken up into neat little sections – one labelled ‘the Parable of the Sower’, another ‘the Parable of the Weeds’, and so on – all so that Jesus’ teaching may be easily comprehended and understood.
But if Jesus’ preaching was all teaching, then he either wasn’t the Messiah, or we are completely misrepresenting his words.
Paul Scott Wilson claims that the second part of preaching, proclaiming, is just as important as teaching – and has mostly fallen by the wayside . Again, it is not hard to discover some of the reasons why the art of proclamation has become a little lost. It is completely focused on God. Using the example of a tour of an historic house, teaching would be like viewing the house but proclaiming would be like meeting the owner. The owner of the house of the Word of God, being God himself, and I should think there are some people in our congregations who would be very keen on delaying that interaction as long as they could.
When we take proclaiming who God is seriously, people will be introduced to the Author of the pages we are teaching from. It is this that will take preaching from being a declining Sunday tradition to a powerful vehicle of transformation.
This is also what will rub people up the wrong way. God is unapologetically God, unapologetically holy, and unapologetically offended by sin. When we proclaim this holy God – this sin-hating God – people will surely feel challenged and uneasy in his exposing light. Mostly because they have not been introduced to Him for quite some time, if not ever.
That is where the pastoring comes into the equation, when people are uncomfortable with the sin in their lives, where will they turn? But that is another point for another day.
When preachers become passionate about proclaiming God from the pulpit, that is when our churches will change and Christians will become ignited with the Spirit. The passion from the preacher will keep the art of preaching alive.
Not just a fake, transparent passion, but a true unrest with the lost souls that a preacher is confronted with every week. A deep frustration that time is running out and each message preached is important. Not a desire for bigger congregations, but deeper congregations. Not comfortable audiences, but audiences that are driven from the easy lives they are living and desire the truth. A hunger and thirst for a crowd that hungers and thirsts for more of God.
And this is driven by the preacher. Philip Brooks says this :
“Preaching is the bringing of truth through personality.”
When the preacher adds themselves to the teaching of the Word and the proclamation of God himself, the congregation gets to see the truth in action. Zack Eswine makes the claim that :
“Biblical preaching will meet this challenge (of reaching people in a “post-everything” world) only when a generation of preachers remembers where they have been.”
Preaching is essential to the Church because it puts into human words the heavenly truths we find in Scripture. The power and passion that testimony provides is a crucial tool in teaching congregations and proclaiming the character of the God we serve.
Ultimately, preaching is not relevant because the preacher is powerful. Preaching gains its relevancy as we proclaim the power of God.
“If I only had one more sermon to preach before I died, it would be about my Lord Jesus Christ. And I think that when we get to the end of our ministry, one of our regrets will be that we did not preach more of Him. I am sure no minister will ever repent of having preached Him too much.”
3Eswine, Zack, Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons that Connect with Our Culture (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2008).
2 Merida, Tony, Faithful Preaching: Declaring Scripture with Responsibility, Passion, and Authenticity (Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2009).
Smith, Steven W., Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit (Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications, 2009).
1 Wilson, Paul Scott, Setting Words on Fire: Putting God at the Centre of the Sermon (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2008).