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Preaching Articles

When I arrived at seminary, I had a major problem understanding the task of preaching.

Throughout my professional career as a writer, there were certain flaws in style that were considered especially amateurish, undisciplined, and ineffective. Being called out for one of these basic level criticisms would be mortifying. One of the worst things an editor could say about a piece of writing was that it was "preaching."

  • Preaching is the term for what happens when the writer takes on the air of the know-it-all.
  • A preacher stands high above the audience.
  • A preacher shows so little respect for that audience that he or she claims the right to tell them not only what is true (whether opinion or not) but how to act and what to think.
  • A preacher's ego gets in the way of, and often overwhelms the message. 
  • Preaching is the level of discourse that parents often take with small children, and it is not an effective way of communicating even with them.

So here I walk into seminary where preaching is considered not only a good thing, but the crown jewel of a pastor's existence. I hear that preaching is a great responsibility and a privilege. It is the unique task to which a pastor is called and the primary way in which we are to witness to the message of the Gospel.

This posed a huge dilemma for me. My time in the pulpit is my best chance to communicate the message of the Gospel. Yet I know that preaching is not a great form of communication. 

The way out of this dilemma came to me in a quotation from a book in Dr. Martinson's Pastoral Care class at Luther Seminary. It has stuck with me, even though I cannot remember which book it came from or even quote it exactly. The gist of it was: "The preacher is the person whom the congregation sends to the Scriptures on its behalf to see if God has a word to speak to them this week."

Now there is a task and a role that I can handle in good conscience. As the preacher, I am not the know-it-all, ladling wisdom from my vast pitcher of knowledge into the empty heads of those sitting before me.

All I am doing is giving the report that these people staring at me have assigned me to give. They have asked me to go to the lectionary readings this week on their behalf. They have entrusted me with the task of wrestling with and pondering those words, to open myself to the power of the spirit to see what God might be saying through those words to these people in this time and place.

The sermon is the result of my struggle to carry out that task. Nothing more, nothing less.

This understanding of the task of the preacher gives me the perspective and the humility I need in order to have a chance at delivering a timely message in an effective way.

Editor's Note: What's your perspective on preaching as your prepare to head into the pulpit every Sunday?

Nathan Aaseng serves as pastor at St. John's Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, WI. He has had more than 170 books published, sacred and secular, for readers from 8 to adult. His latest work is The Five Realms, an epic fantasy based on 1 Corinthians 1:27.

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David Buffaloe

commented on Nov 21, 2012

good gracious - what a humanist piece. You have taken "preaching", imposed human standards on it, then redefined it from a secular perspective. God anoints and sends the preacher to carry His Word of Good News to those who want to hear it (Isaiah 61:1; Jonah 3:2), as well as those who do NOT want to hear it (Matthew 4:17; 10:7). Preaching is elevated because Christ elevates it, commanding it be "preached upon the housetops" (Matthew 10:27). Preaching commands people to REPENT, to turn and follow God (Mark 1:4). We are commanded to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15), sent by Jesus as He Himself was sent to do the same (Luke 4:43). The preaching of the Gospel is beautiful (Romans 10:15), more important that even baptism (1 Corinthians 1:17). I can go on and on. I'm sorry, but I don't care how many books you've written, you need to pick up the Book of Books, the Bible, and read it before writing.

John E Miller

commented on Nov 21, 2012

I could not agree more wholeheartedly with David Buffaloe. I cannot see the point of this article and really have to question the motives behind it. "The preacher is the person whom the congregation sends to the Scriptures on its behalf to see if God has a word to speak to them this week." That is a statement that smacks of Roman Catholicism. Don't read the scriptures, the priest will read them for you! Paul preached Christ crucified. Jesus said, "If I be lifted up I will draw all men to me." This article suggests that a preacher is entrusted with his task by his congregation. Like the author's latest work that is fantasy.

Dean Johnson

commented on Nov 21, 2012

I think you guys are being too hard on the author. He's just saying that in his journalistic career "preaching" was a pompous thing, but in the church it is a humble opportunity to deliver God's word.

Paul Hull

commented on Nov 21, 2012

David and Nathan -- The presumed dichotomy here is in how we define preaching. David has given us a very New Testament usage of the word preach. A careful examination, even of the Greek, reveals that we are supposed to be preaching (heralding) to the lost. What has come to be called preaching, the New Testament calls teaching and it was to be directed to those who are already part of the church. In fact teachers are listed among the church leaders in Antioch who sent Paul and Barnabas out on their first preaching tour. When we mix definitions, or use extra-biblical language, we invite confusion because we are defining words and terms differently and so are not really communicating. The church, and its leaders are called to preach the gospel to the lost and to build up the church through teaching. I agree with Nathan in that neither of those should be done from high above, but rather as Paul said in I Thessalonians 2, "not from error or impure motives".

Dean Johnson

commented on Nov 21, 2012

Paul Hull, you're exactly right about the NT usage of the Greek words for "preaching" and "teaching." Preaching is the heralding of the gospel outside the church to the lost. Teaching is what was done in the church for the growth of Christians. But we've created this confusion by calling what we do in church on a Sunday morning "preaching." Guys, when you read in your English Bibles something about "preaching," please don't automatically assume it's talking about what you do on a Sunday morning from a pulpit inside your church.

Bill Williams

commented on Nov 21, 2012

Yeah, I'm not very comfortable with his understanding of preaching either. That it has given him humility is good. That it has served as a correction on his previous misunderstanding of what "preaching" was, based on his career as a journalist...well, I suppose it's a step up. But I would encourage the author to continue further exploring the Scriptures to discover the true purpose of preaching. I think he's made some progress from where he started, but I'm not sure that he's there quite yet. As John pointed out, there's a bit too much Roman Catholicism in that quote. Also, I agree that there is a difference between preaching and teaching.

Frank L Johnson

commented on Nov 21, 2012

"The preacher is the person whom the congregation sends to the Scriptures on its behalf to see if God has a word to speak to them this week." Or perhaps understood as: after much prayer and supplication the person called by a congregation of baptized believers to pastor that specific visible body of believers. Yes, that would include preaching and teaching. His ends with a note on humility. All in all simply thought provoking.

Frank L Johnson

commented on Nov 21, 2012

"The preacher is the person whom the congregation sends to the Scriptures on its behalf to see if God has a word to speak to them this week." Or perhaps understood as: after much prayer and supplication the person called by a congregation of baptized believers to pastor that specific visible body of believers. Yes, that would include preaching and teaching. His ends with a note on humility. All in all simply thought provoking.

Joe Mckeever

commented on Nov 24, 2012

Guys, it's a courageous thing to lay yourself open as this brother has done. With my brother David Buffaloe, he and I come from different backgrounds and what is called "faith traditions," but I appreciate his sharing with readers how he got a handle on his call to preach. I've been at it 50 years next week, and am still trying to do that.

Prescott Jay Erwin

commented on Nov 24, 2012

Many, if not most, of us will have difficulty with this article because we come from a different place than the Rev. Aaseng. As a Lutheran, there is still likely more of a sense of a priestly role for the pastor/preacher than for most Protestants -- at least most Protestant ministers. It may be true that for Lutherans "the preacher is the person whom the congregation sends to the Scriptures on its behalf to see if God has a word to speak to them this week." It will likely be true for any denomination or congregation who maintains a certain distance between themselves and God, expecting their pastor to bridge that gulf on their behalf. As a Baptist pastor, I, for one, am uncomfortable with that role. I recall time-and-again in Scripture when the people [of God] did not, for one reason or another, want to go out to meet with God themselves and so they sent a proxy -- Moses at Mt. Sinai, for instance. I'm not comfortable with people vicariously relating to God through their pastor/preacher. This may be the reality for many church folks and why they're constantly disappointed: the only "relationship" they have with the Lord is their pastor's relationship. In other words, as long as their pastor seems to be doing okay with the Lord and as long as their preacher seems to have a word from the Lord, then maybe they are, too. Many of us will also have difficulty with whom the Rev. Aaseng allowed to define preaching for him as he entered seminary and that he still apparently has at least a latent disdain for preachers and preaching -- and of churchgoers, for that matter -- throughout history ("the know-it-all, ladling wisdom from my vast pitcher of knowledge into the empty heads of those sitting before me"). The alternative definition he found in his pastoral care manual has given him the authority to be an "anti-preacher," if you will (see definition of "antihero"). Many people mistake certainty for arrogance and boldness for egotism. But what is faith but being assured and convinced and certain. And if faith is faith -- that is, if one really believes what one is assured and convinced and certain of -- the faithful will be bold and certain. I suppose the problem with us preachers -- or many of us at least -- is that we believe what we preach and we preach so that others will, too; we preach because we believe it and we believe it's urgent that others believe it, too. Our certainty and urgency may be misunderstood and misinterpreted by some, but let us preach all the more fervently as we see the day approaching!

Tim Bono

commented on Nov 26, 2012

I appreciate this article, and I think the preaching definition captures several important points nicely. Though I would suggest tweaking the definition by eliminating the conditional "if" clause - like so: "The preacher is the person whom the congregation sends to the Scriptures on its behalf to see WHAT WORD God has to speak to them this week." God always has a Word to share with His people, though it may be encouragement, or instruction, or reproof, or admonition, etc. I empathize with Prescott in that I still want my people reading their Bibles all week (of course), yet there is, I believe, a special way that God speaks through divinely appointed elders (Acts 20:28) who are gifted teachers confirmed by the church to labor in the scriptures (2 Tim 2:15) and declare this word in the power of the Spirit on the Lord's Day when the local body is gathered. Blessings, Tim

Henry C. Jaegers

commented on Dec 1, 2014

If your articles reflect what your preachung is like then Don't quit your job at MacDonalds.

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