Can anyone tell me what preaching is for?
Kester Brewin asks this question. Doug Pagitt asks similar questions in his latest book Preaching Re-imagined. I wrestled with this question before enrolling in the preaching D.Min. program a couple of years ago. Not a bad question, but I think there is a good answer. A lot of times when people ask this question, they are taking issue with the form that sermons take. The thing is, there is no such thing as a right sermon form. You can do away with three-point sermon outlines and twenty-minute lectures if you find a better form. There is room for creativity and two-way communication in preaching, and almost anything else you can think of. The other issue that comes up is the authority of the one preaching. What right does he or she have to get up there and lecture? This is something I question a lot as I prepare. I am not the sort of person who craves being in front of a crowd. Every week, I have to remind myself that there is power in the Word and not in me, and that my job is to let that Word speak and get out of the way. That is the job of any preacher. The way we’re wired, somebody has to take the lead to make this happen. It can be a different person every week if you’d like. Even in a group of two people, someone usually takes a lead. It doesn’t have to be a power thing if they see themselves as a facilitator. So it’s not the form and it’s not the preacher that are the issues to me. You can change both of these and it’s fine by me. What’s at the core of preaching is something far more important. When we come together in whatever we call church, whether it be in a home or a cathedral, we need to hear God’s Word. How it happens is much less important to me than making sure it happens. At one time the sermon was not as important as the Scripture reading. It was more of a response to the Scripture reading, unlike today in which the Scripture reading is seen as a preliminary. If you ask me what preaching is for, I would answer that it’s about God’s people listening to his Word and responding to it. As for the form or who preaches, those are far less important to me. One last question remains: whether preaching works. I think it does, but I’ve experienced some good preaching. I have a feeling if we discover some forms that really work, stop the lectures, decentralize the preacher, and let the Word speak for itself in creative ways, we will see that it works much better than we thought it could. But I have to pick up Pagitt’s book to wrestle with this question further.