Can Anyone Tell Me What Preaching Is For?

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.

Obviously many Emerging Churches have got rid of it as a slot. But not all. And it is like the holy grail in most others… the large elephant in the room that no one can challenge the legitimacy of and everyone has to politely pretend they enjoy. I rarely do.


17 responses to “Can Anyone Tell Me What Preaching Is For?”

  1. oh i LOVE this! made me laugh out loud. i rarely enjoy it either – glad to know i’m not alone!

  2. Steve Taylor – Emergent Kiwi – has been reflecting a little on preaching and formation recently…

  3. I’ve been thinking about the institution of the sermon for awhile, and this post and this one seem relevant to the issue raised. I think that preaching can become “spiritual masturbation” like you said, but really any kind of ministry activity can become that. So I don’t know if we can fault preaching itself. But I do think we need to radically re-think the purpose and elements of our church meetings. There is still some theological work to be done on the subject, I think.
    There are a few places I’ve found helpful stuff, though. Jonny Baker wrote an article on preaching (PDF) for a preaching book (his article wasn’t used). Scot McKnight (professor) and Brad Boydston (pastor) are blogging through Doug Pagitt’s new book on preaching. The first post is here , continues here and here

  4. Thanks for the links Ben… I’m aware of Doug’s book, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet.
    I guess more generally the point I am trying to get to is about the irrationality of traditions. In the 2nd post from Scot and Brad, they talk about how preaching needs to become ‘outcome based’: “What can these people do now that they couldn’t before.” (I’d personally rather see “What can they BE…” but that’s a separate point)
    In most churches there is simply no thought about the effects of preaching, and whether it is matched to outcomes. It is just something that is. And always will be. Scott opens by saying “I don’t think I’ve met a pastor or an itinerant preacher who, when unguarded for a moment, doesn’t at times question the value of preaching.” Good. But why so little change then?
    Interestingly, the 3rd post suggests that to criticise preaching as a cultural oddity because it is one way communication is invalid because TV is just that. Exactly. Preaching is too often like watching TV… We all sit there watching the damn thing in a mental stand off saying: “one of us is going to have to switch off, either me or you.” Personally, I’d rather the TV/Preacher turned off so we could do something interactive.

  5. Preaching only really works when you have a specific batch of info to give to a large group. Have you ever been in a “preachy” one-to-one conversation? Jeez.
    It’s a bit like teaching… and I can tell you how hopeless one-way teaching is in schools! Education is going all interactive and small-group and “fun”, even just web-based; tailor made and personal, like God’s speaking.

  6. i kind of think of preaching as a form of art, as apart from an art form…
    last week i preached at a small country town congregation and it was almost like i was acting out the stories for them, opening up cracks for people to look in, providing a way to see the scripture in a different light…
    its story telling, and for me it’s also about starting and continuing a conversation… its never about ending one.
    mind you. i did chuckle at the spiritual masturbation idea…

  7. Kester,
    The outcomes believe that “being” is as important as “doing.” Good point.

  8. “it was almost like i was acting out the stories for them, opening up cracks for people to look in, providing a way to see the scripture in a different light… its story telling, and for me it’s also about starting and continuing a conversation… its never about ending one.”
    Can’t argue with that… I love story-telling. Jon Bell is a great speaker, because he is a wonderful story-teller. This is parabling, and the trouble is, people don’t do it. They get preachy (like it DM!). Stories are porous, make us use our imaginations and take us to other worlds where ours can be seen through different prisms. Preaching is too often about filling in the cracks, making the text, the Word, the world fit into 3 points beginning with P.
    I don’t think Jesus gave the sermon on the mount as an ‘easy to remember acrostic’. But I’m probably wrong. The aramic probably spells out ‘U R SINFUL’. Or something equally encouraging.

  9. Hail the story-teller. Definately.
    I started telling a story quitely today in class, and the whole room gradually silenced to listen to it…
    Jesus was quite captivating with his stories…
    Is it wrong to love stories and hate preaches?

  10. The act of preaching isn’t bad. I think it can be very good if given a way to respond to the message. Most sermons are ended with a prayer and a song and the crowd is dismissed. It would be great if people were given the chance to repond in a way that made the hearer feel more impacted by the sermon: silence to quietly reflect on what was taught, canvases to illustrate the story or point of the message, discussion groups to somehow rationalize the message, more singing glory to God because of hearing a new reason to praise him. I think it’s a better way to send the church into the world than with a prayer and a song. Aside from this I offer almost no deffense of the sunday morning sermon. I think there is way too much focus on that part of the gathering. I guess my question is, how biblical is hearing one person preach for an hour or half hour as the center of our gathering of the church? I thought we were all supposed to bring a psalm or hymn or word.

  11. i love the distinction between story teller and preacher. i think ‘sermon on the mount’ is really very mis-titled. first of all matthew tells us that he sat down. how different would it be if those who call themselves preachers would sit, in comfortable clothes and talk to us, instead of at us.
    i’ve been stuck on matthew 13 ‘why do you tell stories’ question the disciples asked of jesus. i love the points above about them creating holes and cracks for our own stories to pour in.
    they are also extremely portable. each of us will remember the story, or the illustration, or even the joke far longer than the sermon. jesus told stories because even if the person was unable to find that nugget of truth layered in the story when he told it they carry it with them ready to ponder when they could untangle it for themselves.
    stories also trust the listener – tell them they are smart enough to figure things out. it’s a respectful way of telling the truth, instead of the pandering many preachers do ‘now i, the one with the training and the know how, will bestow upon you, small brained ones, the truth. here, i’ve already chewed it for you, now open your mouths and i’ll spit it in like a mother bird…’ ugh.

  12. Loverlee post old boy!
    Just an side: I clicked something somewhere around here before that took me to a superbly written piece on “inerrant bible”, anyone know what I clicked on or where it is cos I’ve totally lost it?

  13. “Stories are a respectful way of telling the truth.” I love that.
    I’d highly recommend “The Seven Basic Plots” by Christopher Booker. Gets right into Jungian archetypes of stories. Just like sermons generally don’t.

  14. thanks for the recommend – i’ll put that on my list!

  15. In answer to the question which heads this post I would point you to the following
    Some quotes from Jesus:
    “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
    “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach”
    “but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
    Some quotes from the rest of the New Testament:
    “And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead”
    “And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
    “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
    “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
    “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! ”
    “1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, ”
    Well, its clear from Scripture why there is a need to preach. Do you see the need now?

  16. Thanks George. I fully see the need to ‘preach’ as described by these texts. What worries me is the linguistic trickery used to defend the often awful public speaking practices in the church. A question for you on this: is what has been translated as ‘preaching’ here in these texts always, sometimes or rarely what we experience as ‘preaching’ in church on a Sunday morning?
    I’m saddened to say that it is rarely. Very rarely.
    The trouble with simply doing a word-search on ‘preaching’ and pasting lots of references to it is that it doesn’t actually help us to work out how to ‘preach’ effectively. Did Jesus talk for around 20 minutes with people sat in rows in front of him after a couple of songs and before a collection plate went round with no interuption or questions? Did he have 3 neat points beginning with the same letter? I doubt it.
    And as the comments above explore, a lot of Jesus’ ‘preaching’ seems to have been ‘storytelling’.
    I’m with you: the NT is full of charges to go and preach. Trouble is, a whole lot of people seem to be doing something else on a Sunday morning, and let’s not defend them blindly and let them get away with it.

  17. Hi Kester, I wonder, with this in mind, what you thought of something like ‘Thought for the Day’ on the today programme. Or even, I wonder, about article writing. Isn’t that preaching, just using text?