Preaching Articles

I’ve been wrestling with this question for quite some time.

My background: I started “preaching” when I was in grade school. I competed in speech as a kid for Leadership Training for Christ. I spoke on Sunday nights occasionally for my dad, who was a preaching minister in the churches I grew up in for 20+ years. Old ladies told me I should grow up to be a preacher. I went to college and got training to be a preacher. During graduate school I was privileged to apprentice in preaching with two extremely gifted preachers.

In short, I was groomed to preach.

Yet I’ve dealt with increasing dissonance about preaching in the three years I’ve been involved in church planting (preaching, at least, as it has been framed up and defined in my lifetime) for at least four reasons:

1) Many of the disconnected adults I’m living among are increasingly skeptical of listening to a single individual who presumes to speak authoritatively to them—which I lump in the category of institutional suspicion that is so prevalent among emerging generations/culture. They are much more keen on communal dialogue and discernment.

2) If I’m honest, preaching in my experience does not equip people to follow Jesus at the deepest levels—in other words, it is not transformative in the way life-on-life discipleship and coaching are. Preaching functions on the level of information/cognition, no matter how funny, emotive or storied the sermon is. Discipleship, however, requires not just information but also imitation—a severe limitation of monological preaching. What bothers me is that in many churches it seems that preaching is relied on as the primary mechanism of disciple-making—yet it is inherently limited.

3) The approach to preaching in the scriptures seems significantly different than the way we practice it now. For instance, preaching in the early church seems much more dialogical than today’s monological preaching. Someone was able to ask a question of Peter in his great Pentecost sermon in Acts 2. Jesus’ best teaching moments were either in response to a question someone else asked, or a question he asked someone else.

4) The contemporary practice of preaching has contributed to an unhealthy consumer orientation and celebrity culture in American Christianity. When people don’t come to a Sunday service because their favorite preacher isn’t speaking that day, there’s a problem. And so the favorite preacher doesn’t take a break very often, which is also a problem on a few levels: a) the celebrity/icon status that preachers receive can erode their souls; b) no other preachers are able to be trained up within the congregation because inevitably few are as good initially as the celebrity preacher; c) all this panders to the idea of church as “vendor of religious goods and services” that subverts the influence of the gospel in North America.

Hugh Halter, in his book AND, makes some challenging comments about preaching that really resonate with me:

This may sound a bit crass, but here’s the real deal: most churches spend the majority of their staff time and financial resources paying for and preparing to deliver a 60-minute program, which prioritizes preaching. All of this, even though within 20minutes, most adults have forgotten 95 percent of what they just heard. If the church were like a business, that would be like putting 90 percent of your investment portfolio into a product that has not produced growth for the last 40 years. It’s like the Houston Rockets giving Yao Ming 90 percent of the team’s salary budget and running 90 percent of the plays through him, making him responsible for shooting 90 percent of the shots and still expecting the team to win. Or it’s like trying to get your car to drive nicely when you only have one of the four wheels with an actual tire on it.

I think you get the point. We need to make intentional investment choices, and yes, you still need a 7 ft. 6 in. Chinese center on your basketball team, and you’ll certainly need that one good tire on your car. These are all important, but you’ll need a lot more than just those things. None of them can carry the load by themselves. The church service with a sermon has and always will be necessary and helpful, but if used as the main way of making missional disciples, it falls far short.

Let me be clear to say that I think preaching is important. Young adults need to hear the scriptures preached and learn to hear the voice of God through it. Preaching does equip people with important information they need to follow Jesus. And even if our approach is a bit different than early church preaching, that’s not to say that God has not used preachers powerfully—because God has.

My question is not whether or not preaching is important, but whether or not we have put too much emphasis on preaching; caused it to bear a weight it was never intended to bear; put all our discipleship eggs in the preaching basket when it was only made to hold a couple of them.

The four reasons above are part of what has caused me to revision my preaching/teaching life in the Storyline Community. For instance:

  • We have a large gathering with preaching a lot less often (monthly) than we do smaller, more conversational gatherings (weekly).
  • Others in the community besides myself have been equipped to share teaching, facilitating and preaching roles in our gatherings.
  • The preaching style has shifted from monological to dialogical. I’m learning how to ask questions and have a (literal, not just figurative) conversation with listeners in the midst of my preaching instead of plowing right through and hoping something sticks.
  • I’m learning to spend more of my time as a coach (or disciple maker) in life-on-life relationships and contexts instead of spending way too much time in sermon/teaching preparation.

Dialogue with me about this! How do these thoughts resonate with or rub against you? What reactions do you have?

I’m Charles Kiser. I live in Dallas, TX. I am married to my best friend, Julie. I am the proud father of two – Ryan and Chloe. In 2008, we teamed up with close friends, two area churches and a resourcing organization to start a new church that would connect with young adults who lived in the heart of Dallas. We dreamed that this church would release young professionals and young families in the area to use their influence and capabilities for the purpose of participating in God’s restorative work in the city of Dallas.

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Talk about it...

Dean Johnson

commented on Mar 30, 2012

This is a needed discussion. The question isn't really if preaching is needed, the question is if preaching the way most of us do it is most effective in making mature disciples. There's an educational axiom that says that "A long, uninteruppted monologue is the least effective way to teach anyone anything."

Fred Mueller

commented on Mar 30, 2012

The problem is not that preaching is overrated, but that it is not rated highly enough. In the reformed tradition, we believe it is God's chosen vehicle of communicating with his people. What business does and what educators say has nothing to do with what God does in the preaching event. For us in Calvin's shadow, preaching is a mark of the true church (along with the sacraments and disciple).

Fred Mueller

commented on Mar 30, 2012

The problem is not that preaching is overrated, but that it is not rated highly enough. In the reformed tradition, we believe it is God's chosen vehicle of communicating with his people. What business does and what educators say has nothing to do with what God does in the preaching event. For us in Calvin's shadow, preaching is a mark of the true church (along with the sacraments and disciple).

Leonard Davis

commented on Mar 30, 2012

I agree with the problem identification. Changes to the current customs are difficult to implement. Many who attend the "Sunday worship service" are completely satisfied with the way things are and the lack of growth that is a consequence of the "come, let us entertain you" approach to the "worship service." Some will argue that the lack of in-depth (disciple producing) teaching is made up in small group Bible Study (a.k.a. Sunday School). In many cases the expectation of the "students" is that they want a monologue (as they are accustomed to having in church) and are reluctant to participate in dialogue even in such a non-threatening environment. Adding to the problem is that many tend to think that the Great Commission says that we are to get people to make a decision and be baptized. The essence of the Great Commission is to go and make disciples.

Fred Mueller

commented on Mar 30, 2012

The worship of almighty God is the highest act of the church. A theology that puts at the center making disciples is anthropocentric. Of course that is the greant commission. But the gathering of God's people, the body of Christ, to extol him always comes first - the great commandment - to love God, which is seen in worship. From that time and event and place we then go out into the world. God's people need to be fed first in church - in worship - via sermon and sacrament.

Jim Defrancisco

commented on Mar 30, 2012

Charles comments are on point with the possible exception of the Hugh Halter quote . The real problem, in my opinion, is that too many sermons are based on Homilectics founded on Greek rhetoric going back to Aristotle. It is oratory and often more like a politicians speech than inspired prophetic message. Messages, whether preaching or teaching, must always be inspired by the Holy Spirit to meet human needs with wisdom coming from God. That is why sports metaphors are usually inadequate. When one studies the prophets you get the idea.

John Kiddy

commented on Mar 30, 2012

Let me say first off, "I don't like this conversation". It is however impossible for me as a Pastor/Preacher,who loves the church, to ignore the ebb and flow of Christians, and not wonder what is missing in the church. I have heard conversations about the pros and cons, and have seen the migration of believers to Discipleship based churches, and we are beginning a campaign to incorporate Discipleship Groups again. Please know that I do defend the huge impact anointed men and women of God make in the lives of believers through preaching, and I will continue to preach and schedule Revivals Meetings at our church. There is also a huge need for believers to experience God in a church setting where the power of God is in operation. The great challenge today is chiseling the time necessary from believers schedules to add other functions. They will come if we are making a significant deposit in their lives. Thanks for the insightful topic and the confirmation.

Jim Defrancisco

commented on Mar 30, 2012

Charles comments are on point with the possible exception of the Hugh Halter quote . The real problem, in my opinion, is that too many sermons are based on Homilectics founded on Greek rhetoric going back to Aristotle. It is oratory and often more like a politicians speech than inspired prophetic message. Messages, whether preaching or teaching, must always be inspired by the Holy Spirit to meet human needs with wisdom coming from God. That is why sports metaphors are usually inadequate. When one studies the prophets you get the idea.

Todd Elliott

commented on Mar 30, 2012

Nailed it.

Dan Keeton

commented on Mar 30, 2012

I thought I could grow a church on preaching. How naive of me to think 35 minutes a week would transform a stale, complacent community. Obviously, it's needed, and some amazing spiritual transformations occur within that context. But it's only one of many things needed to develop followers of Jesus.

Paul Caminiti

commented on Mar 30, 2012

Good provocative article Charles. It's a dubious assumption that what we define as preaching today is what took place in 1st century Palestine. All indications are that preaching was much more communal. Another question I think we should be asking is: What am I doing to get my congregants engaged in the Bible? If our answer is merely listening to my preaching, I think we're missing the boat. A much more comprehensive approach is needed. And putting reading plans on the back table isn't getting the job done either.

Scott Maxwell

commented on Mar 30, 2012

Very good. Preaching is overrated. I've done it for 28 years. Sermons are quickly forgotten. There is no personal engagement-- it's a shotgun approach... and misses a good deal of what those in attendance are pondering about God. I prefer small group or one on one conversations-- that's where the Spirit guides us into knowing Jesus better as we explore together Him who came to seek and save us.

David Pegarella

commented on Mar 30, 2012

Preaching is very difficult work. It requires much study, prayer, preparation, and finally, delivery. On top of all this God often tests us in the message before we deliver it. Plus, the weight of James 3:1, "let not many of you become teachers for in doing so will be judged more strictly" weighs even heavier. The article seems like someone who is already tired and feels like excuses more than reasons. I've seen churches place less emphasis on preaching and have not seen any of those churches prosper when they traveled that path. I've been in ministry almost 40 years and have seen a lot of trends. It is not our job to follow society, but to lead society. Preaching confronts and that leads to personal response. People didn't listen to Jesus either (John 6), but that didn't stop Him from preaching.

John Gullick

commented on Mar 30, 2012

How will they hear if they don't have a preacher. In my opinion most of the great churches of history have had great preachers relevantly sharing the word of God. Look at the growing denominations of the world and you will find relevant, annointed inspirational preaching as a cornerstone of the growth and life. We need to learn to preach like that. Blessings John Gullick

Robert Sickler

commented on Mar 30, 2012

Charles, you are right: as far as you have gone. The real problem is the fact that we try and roll the entire process into a single event. Preaching is vital! I agree that the authoritative lecture style of preaching is not reaching post baby boomer generation, but that does not mean we quit preaching. As for disciple building, you do not create disciples with sermons; that is why we have Sunday School, training classes, Wednesday night lessons, personal encounters, etc.

Rose M. Shores

commented on Mar 30, 2012

I am not a preacher but your discussion is interesting. I have been to a couple of Four Square Churches and one of the things I liked was some congregational interaction. My first experience was the pastor was talking and not realizing I made comment out loud he answered what I was thinking.I guess I wasn't the only one and people got involved with the topic and I think more people learned more about the topic that day because it involved a serious thinking out and understanding because of it. I have been to other churches and have seen this happen and it seems a more Holy Spirit driven church when it happens. I have also been to the mega churches and it really seems difficult to follow what is preached. I am not knocking preaching I just think when the Church is too big some of us have difficulty hearing the Holy Spirit. I know Jesus preached and taught thousands but I like a smaller venue I can hear what God is wanting me to hear and it is easier to get into smaller groups to gain more of what God wants for my life. Part of the problem is with the big churches people hide and don't have to to get to know the folks and be a community.They can listen to the preacher did their weekly go to church and leave without hardly a smile. Smaller churches give more intimacy and an opportunity to be loved into the community and so actually following what the Preacher/Teacher is saying and also have a little interaction to learn and feel God's Holy Presents. Like I said I am not a preacher but as a church member when your job as a pastor is feeling like old stale work, maybe you need to delegate some pastoral duties sit down with the Father Our Beloved Daddy) like a child on Papa's lap, cry a little, laugh a lot and let the Holy Spirit fill back in. God will set you to the right course and give you a new refresh. Thank you for your time. Blessings to you.

Julian Richards

commented on Mar 31, 2012

I wonder if anything we do on a Sunday Worship service will, in isolation, help to grow disciples? Discipleship doesn't happen in an hour or so of meeting together on a Sunday, it happens in an ongoing relationship - or network of relationships throughout the week. when I meet with people over coffee on a Tuesday afternoon, or help someone with the gardening or DIY in a Saturday morning etc., - those are the times the discipleship moves from monologue to discussion. In fact the monologue on a Sunday has served to trigger many great discussion and discipleship moments over the years. Didn't Paul write "we shared our very lives with you" 1 Thess 2:7. In addition to preaching the Gospel, let's share our lives as well. It's not either/or... it's both/and

Suresh Manoharan

commented on Mar 31, 2012

A Pastor's Divinely-ordained task of moulding his congregation into Christ-like image (there are a host of other factors too which facilitate growth like God-permitted tribulations in one's life) involves firstly leading by example (in holiness, prayer, Bible-reading, fellow shipping,witnessing and helping the needy) and then preaching (Acts 1:1). In a Church week-day activities like Bible study, fasting and prayer, cottage prayers (prayer meetings in the homes of the Church members), outreach programmes would supplement the main preaching of Sundays. Suresh Manoharan, www.jandsmministries.com

John E Miller

commented on Mar 31, 2012

My advice to the author is to think of himself less and of Christ more. God has a great deal more to do in us than by us and we must humble ourselves before Himm accepting that we are nothing and that Christ is everything.

Alton Luder

commented on Apr 1, 2012

Interesting discussion. When we polled our congregation about what they wanted in a pastor the number one response was someone who was a good preacher. The board eventually hired an interim whose only job is to preach. So in our church the typical sermon is preferred.

Samuel Miller

commented on Apr 1, 2012

Jesus spent a lot of time one on one with his close disciples and we think of the importance of conversation with our people. I think you make a very important point. Conversation, an one on one costs time and energy that we are not willing to give. Jesus had time for little children and he is our example.

Jimmie Tempano

commented on Apr 2, 2012

Charles, a great article. I live in the Dallas area as well. Let?s see, if we use Jesus as our example to follow, how did He do it? He gathered a few folks around Him. He lived with them, had conversations with them, taught them, worshipped with them and they experienced how He interacted with God and with other people. This was an education no university, bible college or seminary comes close to. Nor do I see many pastors/preachers following this example, mores the pity in my estimation.

Beverly Birchfield

commented on Apr 4, 2012

Preaching goes far beyond the pulpit...and the message goes far beyond the flesh...sometimes we just need to rethink our idea of what preaching is...preaching can be water to a dry and barren heart...if you've been in the wilderness and someone offers you drink preaching becomes the most important link and for some sustainance for the week...on the Table of Shewbread a loaf for the week was placed there,...Some of us plant and water but God gives the increase. every Sunday a loaf should be placed there for sustainance...

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