I've been thinking about the subject of "preaching" over the past few months. Among evangelical Christians, it's almost universally accepted as the apex of our corporate gatherings. If a congregation of believers gathered on Sunday morning and there was no sermon, there would be a lot of questions, accusations, suspicions, doubts, and raised eyebrows concerning the biblical orthodoxy of that church's leadership. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, "The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is the greatest need of the world also." Should we simply say "Amen!" and accept his analysis and prescription, or should we carefully make our own investigation and query into what some might consider the "holy of holies" of the Christian ministry? Please hear me out without jumping to conclusions. I love to hear biblically-saturated, closely-reasoned and passionately-declared expositions of God's Word! Having begun my ministry within the Reformed evangelical camp nearly 30 years ago, I can honestly say that "I was a Calvinist when Calvinism wasn't cool," and most Reformed evangelicals have a very high view of preaching.
That being said, should I just conform to the traditional view of preaching and not make waves or ask difficult questions? Those of you who know me . . . well, you know that I've always questioned "the way we've always done it before." Here are some of the things regarding "preaching" that I have been reflecting on:
Where do we get our definition of this term? from our present experience of preaching? church tradition? an in-depth word study of the Greek words translated as "preach" or "preached" or "preaching" in the New Testament? Does it really matter? Do we find evidence in the New Testament of preaching as practiced by modern-day evangelicals?
Most of us spend an enormous amount of time in sermon preparation and delivery? Is it justified? Is this what the early Apostles meant when they said, "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4)? I know some preachers who jokingly (but at the same time being dead serious) remark that they don't know how to do anything else but preach, and they use preaching as an excuse to stay safely isolated within the four walls of their study. They don't "do" pastoral counseling, visitation, personal evangelism, or even make an effort to get to know the people who gather to hear them preach week after week.
One such brother describes himself as a "preaching machine" who churns out three or four sermons a week. Right after the stoning of Stephen, the Bible says that the Apostles remained in Jerusalem while severe persecution caused everyone else to flee. Luke records that "those who had been scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:). It sounds like everyone became an itinerant preacher in those days; in fact, the Greek phrase often translated as "preaching" in Acts was a word that emphasized the "good news" rather than a style of oratory that requires a gathered crowd, a wireless microphone, an elevated platform and a pulpit.
So what is preaching? Who is authorized to preach? Does preaching have a particular locality? Must we emphasize a certain style, structure, or manner of delivery? What about its duration in minutes? Can you really "preach" in jeans, or does one's clothing have anything to do with the effectiveness or legitimacy of preaching? Is the use of technology, like PowerPoint or video clips, a sign of compromise or simply evidence of doing one's best to communicate to a modern audience? Why do we prefer the monologue approach to pulpit preaching versus a more interactive style?