COMMENTARY | Nathan Carter
“Is it really helping when we spend so much of our week laboring at the Word of God, preparing to preach it to the churches we serve…Is it worth slogging away preparing Sunday’s sermon with such a world of need outside?”
Maybe you are a pastor and you have doubted whether your preaching is really doing anything. Maybe you are a church member who sometimes falls asleep during sermons and you wonder if there is a better way of connecting with today’s postmodern culture. Is preaching a thing of the past?
We are far from the Puritan days when one minister apologized to his congregation for preaching a two-hour sermon and they all replied, “For God’s sake sir go on, go on!” During the era of the Baby Boomers, preaching in many churches became a casual talk on how biblical principles can address felt needs, bolstered by the use of multimedia technology.
Many Gen Xers and Millennials are now looking for new expressions of church, and the very idea of preaching is being re-imagined. Wouldn’t it be more authentic to have a dialogue about the Bible where everyone could share his or her own experiences and insights?
I define preaching as one-directional, verbal proclamation of God’s Word culminating in the gospel. And I still maintain that this is an absolutely essential practice for the church. Why? For one, we see it happening all over the Bible (i.e. Acts 10:33-44). That’s descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive, you might say. Well, it is also expressly commanded elsewhere (i.e. 2 Tim. 4:2).
But couldn’t the intent behind “preach the word” be fulfilled in other ways than one person talking at other people for an extended time? I certainly believe there are several different legitimate styles of preaching. But the method of preaching is critical.
We need times when we bite our tongues as we are confronted by the authority of God’s Word. In an age of relativism and rebellion against authority, it makes sense why we don’t want to sit under preaching. We don’t want doctors; we’d rather self-diagnose. The idea of a wiki-sermon that we all have a hand in constructing is much more appealing. But our great need is to hear, “Thus saith the Lord,” and let his external word rebuke us, call us to repent, make us ready to receive the message of the gospel, and then respond in faith and obedience.
Hearing a declaration of something that has happened, something to which you can’t contribute a thing but must respond to with either belief or disbelief, best comports with the gospel. Since there is a constant need to have the double-edged sword of God’s Word pierce our souls to expose our sinful hearts and then graciously present Christ to us in all his resplendent glory so that we can trust in him as our righteousness and healer, preaching will always be indispensable.
There is a place for small group discussions and seminars and life-on-life mentoring. But preaching is an essential element of the life and health of a church. The practice of preaching can be abused (when it becomes a chance to express one’s own ideas instead of expound a text), but that shouldn’t cause us to avoid its proper use. Some preachers are more gifted than others, but the mark of a mature believer is to be easily edified as long as the Word of God is being preached.
Charles Spurgeon said, “I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Churches.”
May he do it again today!
Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.