The core if Bill’s argument seems to be: “Sermons don’t make disciples – though living life together just might.”
I agree with Bill in one sense. I’m not alone. Tim Keller has sounded a similar warning to pastors who spend too much time in the study and not enough time in community:
If you put in too much time in your study on your sermon you put in too little time being out with people as a shepherd and a leader. Ironically, this will make you a poorer preacher. It is only through doing people-work that you become the preacher you need to be–someone who knows sin, how the heart works, what people’s struggles are, and so on. Pastoral care and leadership (along with private prayer) are to a great degree sermon preparation. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Through pastoral care and leadership you grow from being a Bible commentator into a flesh and blood preacher.
The Trellis and the Vine, a book that’s making the rounds in the young, restless and Reformed crowd, argues that “Sunday sermons are necessary but not sufficient.” The authors write:
Sermons are needed, yes, but they are not all that is needed. Let’s be absolutely clear: the preaching of powerful, faithful, compelling biblical expositions is absolutely vital and necessary to the life and growth of our congregations. Weak and inadequate preaching weakens our churches…Conversely, clear, strong, powerful public preaching is the bedrock and foundation upon which all other ministry in the congregation is built…
[But] God expects all Christians to be disciple-makers by prayerfully speaking the Word of God to others – in whatever way and to whatever extent that their gifting and circumstances allow. When God has gifted all the members of the congregation to help grow disciples, why should we silence the contribution of all but one of them (the pastor) and think that this is sufficient or acceptable?
If you want to talk missional, David Fitch said this recently: “The continuous forms of the church, including Eucharist, the preaching and interpretation of the canon of Scripture, the fellowship of the gifts, are therefore dispensable for Mission.”
Let’s put it this way.
Bill is on to something. Some churches rely too much on the Sunday event, and the preaching in particular, to do all the work. Some pastors put too much emphasis on Sunday mornings and don’t see the main worship event as only part – an important part – of what it means to be the church.
But just as some expect too much from preaching, I’m convinced many of us expect too little. I’ve seen some pastors prepare too little, just as some prepare too much. Preaching is central to the life of the church. It’s not everything, but it’s hugely important. Lose preaching and you don’t just lose preaching. You start to lose a lot of the other elements of church life you were trying to save.
Let’s not create a dichotomy between preaching and community, or any of the other important elements of church life. The Bible doesn’t.