Preaching Articles

A couple of years ago now, we had a large group over to our house for the Super Bowl. I ended up sitting with a lot of people in a room where there was no TV. I think we talked all night. I didn’t see one play of the football game (the Hamilton Tiger Cats weren’t playing). I ended up sitting with this guy named George (name changed to protect the innocent), and we started talking about preaching.

He said to me the following on the difference between preaching at Life on the Vine and other churches he’s been to: “When I’ve been at other churches, I walk away saying, 'That is something I need to work on for my Christian life.' At the Vine, I am confronted with a reality that I see I am not quite there yet and I’m invited to enter. I feel the tension. I can’t go there yet. I’m not ready. Yet I have to respond.”

Then he said, “When we have the communal response, it is so painful because I know if I pray it out loud, if I respond and put it out there in words ... things have forever changed.”

All this was unprovoked and fascinating for me to listen to. It illustrates for me the difference between teaching and preaching.

Teaching is informational. We are digging into the backgrounds of texts, the meanings of words, explaining what the text means in terms of its original context. It is heavy with information.

Preaching is proclamation. It declares the truth of God in Christ. It proclaims the reality of Jesus as Lord over us as we submit and what that means for our lives right here and right now. And then we are invited into that reality. It is the Kingdom breaking in by the work of the Spirit. And we, if we hear God speaking to us, we have to respond to Him.

At the Vine, there is always a time after our preaching when we respond, most often in prayers of the people, when we are given a liturgical prayer to fill in the blank. Being in the midst of those prayers is an oasis of the Spirit. It always reminds me of the words of Paul:

"If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

The “being saved” that is happening here in this meeting room after we have just heard the Word proclaimed is the whole entering into the reality (Gospel) that God is working in the world. This is why preaching can be God’s instrument to transform the world.

There is always the awkward moment when I meet people after the Sunday gathering just after I have preached. People don’t really know what to say. But I confess, one of the things that makes me cringe is when someone says, “I really enjoyed your sermon.” Ouch. I know what they mean. I should be more gracious. And they are being incredibly encouraging.

Yet when they say this this, it reminds me too much of Zizek’s dictum (I’ve read too much Zizek, I know) that saying, “I enjoy my religion” implies I mustn’t take it too seriously. Instead I am “enjoying” it, keeping it at a distance, so as not to let it endanger my life. This distance is subtle. It was what George was describing so skillfully above.

I think classical expository preaching that focuses on information borderlines on providing this distance. I think that’s ironic because I think it was originally devised to keep the preaching as close to the Word of God as possible. I wrote a whole chapter on this dynamic in The Great Giveaway many years ago. In the process it informationalized preaching. Gave us an excuse to say, “Hmmm, that is something I have to work on in my Christian life.” And so we never get to it.

For all these reasons, I much prefer telling the preacher after the gathering:  “Thank you, God really used you to destroy my world” (versus: “I really enjoyed your sermon.”). If someone would say that to me, I would also have to confess that I have been destroyed as well and need to trust in Jesus as Lord to do His work in us. I confess I have had my world destroyed by the sermon in worship more than a few times at Life on the Vine gatherings. And it’s been good.

What do you think about all this? What would you prefer to say to the preacher (or have said to you after you’ve preached)? Is there something to be learned from George about the way we preach?

David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary. Hehelped start Up\Rooted, a collaborative gathering for Chicago area church leadership engaging the post-modern context. More recently he's been involved in organizing the Missional Learning Commons in the Midwest.

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David Buffaloe

commented on Jan 29, 2013

Interesting points.

Ephrem Hagos

commented on Jan 29, 2013

According to the terms in the "new covenant", there is room only for man's sharing of the seal in the wonders of Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, a.k.a., "the first-born from the dead": immediately confirmable by the Holy Spirit's conviction without any further need for teaching and preaching.

David Buffaloe

commented on Jan 29, 2013

Don't know where you get that from Ephrem, but it's not Bible. The need for preaching and teaching is seen in God's gifting to the Church. Ephesians 4:11-15 (KJV) 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [even] Christ:

Dean Johnson

commented on Jan 29, 2013

While I appreciate the need for more heartfelt response to the proclamation of Biblical truth, the definitions of "teaching" and "preaching" in this article are not Biblical. In the New Testament, "teaching" (didaskolos) is what is directed to believers inside the church, and a heartfelt response is very much expected. "Preaching," (kerygma) is the proclamation of the gospel to the lost. While I appreciate the article's author's efforts, I feel that he unfairly and unBiblically misrepresents the New Testament's treatment of the "teaching" of Scripture.

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