I hear it often, although not as much as before: preaching is overrated. I sometimes see people quote Dallas Willard: “We have counted on preaching and teaching to form the life of the Christian. But this strategy has not turned out well. The result is that we have multitudes of Christians who can hardly get along with themselves, much less others.”
Preachers love preaching, because they’re the ones that get to do it, they say, but it’s not producing the kind of spiritual maturity that it should, nor does it deserve as much prominence in the life of the church.
I get concerned when I read statements like this. Yes, I’m a preacher, and I’m not neutral on this subject. Nobody is. But I’ve seen the danger of falling into one of two ditches when it comes to preaching. We do well to avoid both.
Ditch One: Devaluing Preaching
Some are so disenchanted with preaching that they devalue it. I sometimes see posts that question the value of preaching, and inevitably, I see a lot of likes.
But preaching isn’t optional in the church. The form may vary, but it’s essential that someone open Scripture and declare and apply what God has said, and call people to respond. It’s not a discussion, although discussion may ensue. It’s proclaiming, declaring, and applying so that people hear and respond to what God has said.
Our view of preaching is tied to our view of Scripture. The best kind of church has a high view of Scripture, and therefore a high view for the proclamation of what Scripture says. Preaching is not primarily about the preacher or about our needs or wants. It’s about submitting to what God has revealed, and allowing ourselves — corporately and individually — to be shaped by that revelation.
We need a high view of Scripture and a high view of preaching. In fact, I would argue that a church will never be healthier than its preaching. As we’re about to see, preaching isn’t everything, but every time I find a healthy church, I also find a sound pulpit. I’ve never seen an exception to this rule.
Never buy into the lie that preaching doesn’t really matter. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was right: “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 obviously the greatest need of the world also.”
A church must value preaching — not just any kind of preaching, but preaching that is tied to a high view of Scripture that shapes how the congregation thinks, feels, and acts. God has spoken; we must listen and obey.
Ditch Two: Devaluing Ministries Other Than Preaching
We should value preaching, but we shouldn’t expect it to carry the entire freight of ministry within the church. Preaching is a central and essential ministry of the church, but it’s not the only one.
“Sunday sermons are necessary but not sufficient,” write Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.
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…
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?
We need the other ministries of the church, of believers ministering to one another.
We’re good at extremes. It’s easy to fall into one ditch or the other. We can’t afford to make the mistake of devaluing preaching or devaluing ministries other than preaching.
Don’t listen to the rumors that good preaching doesn’t matter. It’s central to the health and growth of the church. Value preaching, and then cultivate other ministries that allow the Word to shape all of church life.
Don’t devalue preaching or the other important ministries of the church.