This post is part 1 of 2. Click here to see part 2.
1. Communication theory
- preaching is a dated form of communication in postgoogle setting people want the right to reply
- preaching leads to a poor retention of information
- even the best monologue practitioners are performers seeking to entertain- eg Stand up Comedy and their aim is to provoke shock; laughter and to sell a lot of products which are (hopefully) very different motivations than for preachers. So if we take hope from this format as revitalising oratory we may be clutching at straws.
So preaching as it is practiced in a lot of our churches is a dead form of communication that doesn’t fit our contemporary western cultures.
2. Education theory
- inefficient form of education / transformation
- doesn’t play to the different learning styles in the room
- poor results in transformation of character
- with greater levels of education in our churches – (because of the middle class audience of many of our churches many have been educated to tertiary level and beyond ) the level of challenge and engagement in our preaching has failed to take this into consideration
So preaching hasn’t engaged with changes in the educational environment and so is a dead form of education.
Now to be fair a lot of these could be resolved by understanding preaching in the wider context of the church’s ministry. But preaching has a particularly elevated place in the church’s life (see next point).
- We have so elevated the place of preaching that some churches view preaching as the central point of gathering e.g. church involvement is often measured by attendance at a ‘preaching service’ we often view this as the litmus test of inclusion in the church. This can encourage passivity in church attenders where “sitting and listening” are seen as the pinnacle of my Christian practice.
- Some churches argue that preaching is the most important part of the church leader’s role dedicating a lot of time and energy to this task indeed it is the sole selection criteria for choosing a new leader sometimes “preaching with a view” is a central part of the selection process. Encourages church leaders to hide away in the study and not engage with congregation or community. I came across a church leader who literally does not leave his house in the week so he might prepare the sermons and administrate.
- We advertise church attendance based around what people will hear – we publish teaching programmes or advertise speakers which encouraged consumer approach to church between Christians. We measure our church experience through the quality of the preaching – “I am not getting fed here”; “I am not growing in my understanding”; “I haven’t learned anything new.”
So preaching is dead because we have placed too heavy a burden on it and it has collapsed under the expectation overload.
Our preaching is not turning out disciples of Christ the benchmarking of quantitative life difference that the church is making to people seems minimal. To pick one example: Divorce rates in churches not massively different to wider culture. Christians not seen to be making very different consumer life choices. Some argue that we need more preaching or better preaching but is there any evidence that in the churches / constituencies that are arguing better preaching is the solution that significant character change is taking place.
- The average christian has heard hundreds of sermons and can remember very little of their content. Even if we allow the argument that says; just like our regular diet of food; we have regularly eaten meals over the course of our lives but most of us would struggle to be able to remember the exact contents of the meals – they have still done us good. So preaching has fed us continually over the years and remembering their content doesn’t mean they haven’t done us good.Even if this train of thought is acknowledged; most preaching is aiming at a one off transformative experience rather than a steady diet of worldview; maturity development. The same argument could be offered for classroom teaching of children – but there does seem to be a higher amount of long range planning and developmental targets in play in education than in most preaching programmes.
So preaching has died in our memories as most of it has been unmemorable and bland
- how much of our preaching really is Bible based? Looking back at my early sermons there was a lot of:
a) nagging – taking a text and telling people they should do more
b) hobbyhorses – twisting a text to say what it didn’t but what i wanted it to say
c) personal experience driven – shaped by my personal experience rather than hearing the text clearly
d) speaking into areas I knew nothing about – making off hand comments about things the text didn’t actually say and I didn’t really know about
e) trying to impose an inherited rather than thought out theological grid onto the text
Now hopefully I am improving in these areas; but I still hear a lot of preaching that fits this description.
So preaching has died because we drowned out God’s voice with our own.
The mode of preaching we have developed is very different to the examples we see in the New Testament.
- Monologues – Jesus is often interacting with the audience; responding to a question or engaging in dialogue.
- Memorised / Manuscripts - the idea of a scripted sermon is hard to find – there seem to be a lot of ad hoc; extemporaneous preaching going on – Acts 2; Acts 17
- Modelled on the epistles – a lot of our preaching look and feel like the letters of Paul rather than preaching of Jesus. Three points that alliterate feels closer to the letter writing of Paul than the parables of Jesus for example.
- Muting the Spirit - I have come across preachers who video their sermons and replay them in venues they can’t actually go and preach at. So there is little room for the spontaneous infusion of wisdom, knowledge and insight that could come by being live in the room with the preacher.
So preaching has died because we put it into a coffin of professionalised preprepared pronouncements on the epistles.
DISCLAIMER: This has been prepared for a debate I am participating in where I have been asked to argue that “Preaching is Dead.” I am seeking to build the strongest case I can. As in all good debates my personal views are not in play. The overall aim of the debate is to help us reform; reframe; reimagine and rediscover preaching not to rubbish it. I am a committed preacher but we need to face the hard questions sometimes. Feel free to comment by challenging my points or adding your own.