Preaching?

Many of you know that I absolutely repudiate the practice of preaching in churches. John Hobbins has an intriguing quote on the topic over at his blog. Now, I’m sure that the original quote is not about getting rid of preaching. I know that many people feel that preaching has been commissioned by God for the spread of the Gospel. I also know that many people who see that preaching is only a method still feel that it has certain helpful things. I know of at least one person who thinks we should keep it because it’s what people expect when they come to church.

Nevertheless, I’m forced to ask the question: why? Why do we preach? Why is it the center piece of the Sunday morning worship in many Evangelical™ churches? No one has been able to answer these questions to my satisfaction, and so I have concluded that preaching is a waste of time. Why is it a waste? Why should the church do away with the practice?

1. If the goal is to educate people, there are far more effective ways to do so. Even if a lecture format is retained the asking of questions and “classroom discussion” is an absolutely vital portion of educating people in a lecture format. Having someone talk at people for 25-45 minutes does not educate them. It does not teach them. It puts them to sleep. If you are an exceptionally good speaker your jokes or stories will keep them awake, and they may walk out having learned something. The majority of pastors, however, are not exceptionally good.
2. If the goal is worship, then have members of the congregation read scripture as part of the worship of the church. There is no need for a 30 minute exposition.
3. If the goal is to exhort the congregation, or to tie in the Scripture reading for the week with the life of the congregation, do so in 10 or 15 minutes, not 30.
4. This is my own personal preference (of course, so are the above three), but I think that the “message” as we have it has taken the central place of worship away from the Eucharist. As such we have made our worship about learning or doctrine instead of about encountering the living Messiah.

Let me be quick to add that people have certainly learned when a pastor has preached. At times people have certainly been ministered to via preaching. I am not saying that it has not been effective in the past. I’m not even saying that God can’t use preaching to effect a change in someone’s life today. I am saying that preaching, as the center piece of Sunday worship is outdated. It fulfills no purpose, and may in fact hinder our encounter with Jesus through our worship.

I say, and of course this is my blog so I can say whatever I want (read: this is my opinion and I realize I’m in the minority here), that we do away with preaching, or at the least that we minimize the centrality of it at our weekly gatherings. Ultimately this only amount to my thoughts on the matter, and I fully realize many disagree with me.

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10 thoughts on “Preaching?

  1. Ok, now that I’ve actually read your post I’ve got a few disagreements:

    #3 doesn’t work because one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard was last year at a Catholic Church on Easter Sunday. The Priest communicated the need for a second resurrection, a resurrection in the believer’s heart (I know its cliche). The sermon was 15- 20 minutes, max and has stayed with me.

    What about Acts 2 where it says that the early church broke bead and committed themselves to the apostles’ teaching? It seems that study of doctrine in some form was a part of the Church’s foundation and I doubt that solely meant small group teaching.

    #2- where do we get that Sunday should be about ‘worship’? Why is ‘worship’ synonymous with ‘liturgic ritual’. It seems that for every proof you have that we should sing songs or eat bread and grape juice at God I can provide just as much for why we should be concerning ourselves with feeding the sick, giving blankets to the homeless and building genuine relationships with each other.

    I like your thinking though. Something’s broken and you’re trying to fix it. Kudos. I think we can’t throw the baby with the bathwater out though, because if we do so we run the risk of ostracizing those already in the fold for the sake of bringing in those outside.

    xoxo.
    Earl

  2. Thel bible plainly teaches in: 1 Corinthians 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

    It’s not who is doing the preaching….it’s what is being preached.

  3. I think we have spoken about this in person, and I would say in spirit I agree. However, while I am not the biggest fan of the homiletic medium, many people do still learn within this context.

    My experience with preaching is very different from the typical experience. I go to an odd church, but many within my congregation would feel somewhat comfortable interrupting the speaker to ask a question (in fact it happened last Sunday, but I do wish we would get more interruptions of that nature). At the very least, at the conclusion of one of my sermons, it would not be uncommon to have 5 to 10 people asking me a question about various implications of my sermon. Or to have someone reference something either John or I said during our sermon time later in the week. I would be naive if I believed a sermon hit its target all of the time, but I can say the same thing for my Wed. class lectures. I think within in a Church context this medium, the sermon, has conditioned people to learn in this way, which isn’t necessarily bad.

    I would also say that the type of message (Topical, Expository, ETC) can also change, at least in my opinion, the teaching value of a sermon. I think that expository sermons can teach people the importance of understanding context, the sequential nature of narrative texts, and gives them a built in background to deal with the culture of the passage. The senior pastor at our Church spent 6yrs preaching through the Gospel of Luke. I think that this gave our congregation not only a methodology to do this on their own, but a solid grounding in the material of the Gospels.

    Like Earl said, I don’t think that you can throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I understand your frustration.\
    Adam

  4. @Earl – I’m not saying a sermon can never be effective. I’m saying that generally they are not. Take a survey at UCCC, how many people remember what Hawco said three weeks ago, or a month ago? The general topic? Sure! Possibly one main point? Maybe. The bulk of what he wasted thirty minutes saying? I seriously doubt it.

    As for your disagreements with #2, I absolutely agree. I’m not convinced that our Sunday morning services should be about worship, per se. At least not in the sense that most evangelicals perceive worship. I absolutely agree, feed the sick, help the widows and orphans, etc. Those would also be a better thing than 30 minutes of preaching.

    @Muse – I’m not sure whether you were trying to be sarcastic or not with the verse reference. I apologize. I’m fairly certain, after looking the verse up, that the author is saying that it’s the foolishness of the message preached, not the foolishness of the method of preaching. “Preaching” as in rhetoric was quite in vogue during the Pax Romana.

    @Parkersmood – You’re experience is different. That’s doesn’t rule it out though. As I admitted, there are effective preachers. There are churches that effectively use preaching. I just tend to think that, on the whole, it doesn’t work. It’s broken. You bring up the specific issue of people being trained to learn this way. I agree, for the older folks in the church that’s the case. For the younger (let’s say, 25 and under) that is not the case. Again, if learning is the goal there are far more effective means, IMO.

    @Everyone – Both Earl and Parkersmood pointed out that we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I agree in principle. I guess my question for you all is this: what’s the baby and what’s the bath water? I think that preaching is part of the bath water. I’d say the baby is whatever we’re trying to do with preaching, whether that be worship, discipleship, fellowship, convincing people to think our way, educate toward doctrinal distinctive, help them learn how to study the Bible, etc.

    If I’ve missed responding to any of your thoughts, it’s not on purpose. Feel free to bring them up again.

  5. “I guess my question for you all is this: what’s the baby and what’s the bath water? I think that preaching is part of the bath water. I’d say the baby is whatever we’re trying to do with preaching, whether that be worship, discipleship, fellowship, convincing people to think our way, educate toward doctrinal distinctive, help them learn how to study the Bible, etc.”

    imo, I’d call formal public teaching/ address the baby and the didactic approach you’re talking about the bathwater. I don’t think we need to divorce ourself from a practice all together because of poor implementation.

    I guess a good question for you is how will this all work out in our local churches. I can only see two options from your perspective, 1) start a new church with no preaching or 2) divorcing ourselves from our American- Protestant heritage and remove the sermon’s centrality in our worship services.

    if it’s not one of those 2, what’s the 3rd option?

    Earl

  6. Working something out in local churches is the key. I see a 3rd option, that I think cuts a compromise.

    Shorten the sermon. Instead of having it as the center piece of the service, reduce it. Make it one part out of many. Instead of a 30-40 minute lecture, make it a 10-15 minute homily. I’d personally fill the “Extra” time with the Eucharist every week, though some will disagree on theological grounds with that, and I can respect such a position.

    What do you think? A fair compromise?

  7. Calvin,
    I certainly resonate with what you have written here. As an associate minister, I only preach a few times a month and though I strive to bring all my teaching strategies to bear when I preach, in the end there are just so many better ways to convey the truths of the gospel then standing in front of people and giving a lecture.

    I know there are pastors who use a more dialogical form of preaching, making the message more a discussion between pastor and congregation and amongst the congregation members. I’ve attempted this on a small scale and found that many people respond well to it because, rather that someone talking “at” them, they themselves are engaged in the process and are helping to form the learning experience.

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