My congregation’s life is in full summer mode. That means on any given Lord’s Day, we’re missing 2/3 of our people (sometimes even ¾!) When I take the small step up to the pulpit on Sunday and look out over the small gathering, I wonder – why am I about to preach? Should I bother? The summer doldrums make me feel this question more so than the rest of the year (I always feel awkward preaching to smaller groups). But the question is still a good one to revisit. I’ve heard several times that communicators and teachers should endeavour to be ‘guides on the side’ instead of the ‘sage on the stage’. There is in this a not so subtle critique of the sermon in its traditional form. *nevermind that as a pastor, I spend lots of time guiding on the side*
Why, in this day and age, should God’s people – with strangers, skeptics, and seekers in their midst – still gather to listen to one person speak from the Bible? What about more dialogical ways of communication? Are we staying with ‘preaching’ just because it’s the way we’ve always done it? When I was an art student immersed in conceptual art forms, I often doubted the validity of traditional painting. Wasn’t painting dead? Maybe oil painters were just addicted to the smell of turpentine, we joked. Is it similar with preachers? Do we keep on with the same method because we’re addicted to our voices?
I love dialogical ways of communicating. I love Q & A (although I’ve rarely been able to successfully employ it in a worship service). In light of that, why do I still keep on preaching rather traditional sermons? I’ve asked myself this many times. I’ve seen other Christians abandon preaching but I just can’t. I thought I’d share why:
1) Our culture hasn’t given up on it!
Despite voices saying that our culture has moved past a crowd gathered to listen to one person speak, I’m not quite convinced. Why? Because many people I know listen like crazy to TED talks. FaceBook walls of friends and acquaintances are filled with links to them and similar talks as well. I know there are differences – most people don’t gather together to hear a TED talk, they’re often shorter than some sermons, and some have more visual aids. But the fact remains, people are still wanting to hear from one designated person who speaks to the many. So I’m not so convinced that our culture is beyond that form.
2) The nature of the Gospel demands proclamation.
The Gospel is by nature an announcement of what has occurred. It is a story to be told. It carries with it the authority of God. Because it is news (the Good News) of something that has been done for us it must therefore be told. Dialogue can be great and helpful but the Gospel’s own nature as news demands proclamation. I’ve heard Tim Keller express this so many times I can’t even cite it. If it were Good Advice it could be shown, but because it is Good News it needs telling. Sometimes people tell me there are other, better ways to teach some one something. I actually agree with them – there are! When I’m out of the pulpit I like to let others do most of the talking and I always love learning that way. But when the time comes in worship for the Word, and the task falls to me, I’m not just teaching but proclaiming. News needs proclamation.
3) I still believe something happens.
Call me naïve but I really believe the Bible; that God speaks through it. And I really believe Titus 1:3, that God manifested (and manifests) His word through preaching (its actually plural – preachings – which I take to mean every occasion of preaching). As Darrell Johnson of Regent College has said about when a person engages in preaching: “Something Happens!” To be in the presence of God’s Word proclaimed isn’t a sacrament – but it’s almost sacramental. That is, there is a real activity of God in the room, with the people, when the Bible is read and expounded. Sin is named and conviction felt. Hurts are addressed and comfort given. Truth is declared and received. Idols are torn down and the True God made known. Something really happens. Something of God’s Word is manifested in the here and now.
It’s for these reasons that I still preach. Every now and then I must remind myself that it is not a waste of time – even in the midst of summer doldrums.