Where have we reached with Preaching?

Again, I’ve had great feedback on the questions raised about preaching. Church pastors and ministers appear to be both aware of the potential for varied approaches to Bible teaching and reluctant to lose traditional preaching in church. Many church leaders recognise the value of an integrated programme of learning and biblical reflection that includes personal study, small group work and church sermons.

For me, questions remain over the aim and function of church preaching and these relate to larger questions of the aim and function of church services. Our approach to preaching will often be consistent with our view of church services and the aims of both.

My current thought is that church is primarily a gathering of Christians yet open to all. I’m not sure that the once fashionable ‘seeker service’ is appropriate in a post-Christian and post-Christendom society, where few people feel the need to simply arrive at services. And yet, often church services remain aimed at the unbelieving visitor whether or not they attend. However, I have heard Tim Keller say the opposite, that if you speak as though unbelievers are there eventually they will be. Presumably because their Christian friends will bring them, or visitors will be interested enough to return. But I wonder whether Scottish culture differs from American on this. Also, few preachers have Keller’s ability and speaking gifts.

By focussing primarily on the not yet Christian, the shop-window view of church may encourage many preachers to take a superficial approach which depends upon attendance at further meetings for depth (clearly this is not the case with Redeemer services). It also absolves most of the congregation from the need to engage in evangelism and outreach which in turn limits their growth and development.

However, where possible services ought to be in an accessible language and style appropriate to their context. The reason being, if Christians don’t learn to worship and reflect in contemporary language they will struggle to share their faith in the culture they inhabit outside of church. In a greek class, years ago, it was pointed out that there is theological precedent for this view, namely that the New Testament is written, primarily, in Greek which was the ‘global’ language of the day. And as helpfully pointed out it’s written in Koine Greek which was the language of the hoi polloi.

Questions also remain over the biblical foundations of church preaching. Is a monologue presentation, as opposed to dialogical teaching of the Scriptures, something that the bible anticipates? Announcing and heralding the Gospel are clearly biblical but are they meant primarily for church service or part of engaging with the world at large.

It’s hard to evaluate the efficacy and appropriateness of preaching. In addition to questions of the biblical foundations of church activities, there is also the question of outcome. How do we evaluate the outcome of different teaching methods or views of ‘preaching’?

Most pastors or ministers would find it very difficult to receive the kind of evaluation and scrutiny that others do in their work. I regularly wonder whether I have the stomach and strength to ask my congregation what they think of church. And this is not due to a lack of potential feedback, I’m sure there’s an old joke about the congregation going home to roast the minister for Sunday lunch!

There is also the issue of expectation. Both pastor-teachers and the congregation may not not waste time considering the practical impact or efficacy of church preaching because they view preaching sermons as a necessary, sacred act. Therefore even canvassing the congregation may simply tell what they want rather than what might serve them best.

Finally, perhaps the best available evaluation of church teaching is the wider situation of the church. Is our teaching or preaching engaging the congregation? Is it leading to growth in terms of faith? Is it leading to growth in numbers involved in the Christian community? Do our congregations feel built up in their faith, and empowered to handle Scripture? Are they increasingly inspired and equipped to share their faith outside of the Christian community? And are our churches increasingly displaying the fruit of the Spirit and obedience to Christ?

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