Tag Archives: Preaching

Crop Wheat Field 11

Simply defined, preaching is the intentional proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.

As proclamation, preaching occurs at a particular time, in a particular place, to a particular audience.  Preaching requires that someone is listening, and it requires presence and immediacy that is unique compared to other forms of communication, such as a printed book or a video recording.  Put another way, preaching requires particularity.

General or archived sermons (such as those used by satellite churches) serve a purpose, but do not qualify as preaching in the holistic sense.   Such sermons do not address the particular needs of a particular congregation, which is composed of particular individuals at a particular time.  As such, these sermons address general needs, but never address the particular needs of a particular people.

Crop Wheat Field 11As Haddon Robinson once wrote, “In the Gospels we see that Christ never dealt with two people the same way… A sermon full of generalities hits no one in particular.”  (The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, 117)  In other words, Jesus recognized that preaching involves not only words, but the people being addressed.  There is particularity when Jesus speaks, and preachers today should recognize how our Lord and Savior proclaimed the good news of His Kingdom.

Preaching is not a relic, nor an object for electronic archive, but an event that takes place in real-time and real space.

 

 

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I am a huge proponent of incorporating technology into the local church. It deserves to be said, however, that when it comes to technology in the local church, we need to think through our options. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should.

On a practical level, one instance of this is the recent increase of multiple video screens (usually in larger churches) and the rise of satellite churches (which incorporate sermons via a video feed). After nearly 2000 years of church ministry, only in the past decade or two has this technology been an option. In response to this growing phenomenon, much could be said about the importance of personal contact, proximity, and lifestyle as they relate to preaching. A quick illustration, however, will suffice to show why we need to think through these issues:

At the most recent Presidential inauguration, there were roughly 2 million people in attendance. Some of these people were near President Obama or within eyesight, while others were 2 miles away at the Lincoln Memorial. Those who were far away, of course, depended on video screens in order to see what was happening on stage. They were present in person, but in in a different sense.

That actual event reveals a very simple truth: people within eyesight had a greater sensory experience, while those far away (though enjoying their time) had a much different experience. For those watching a video screen (2 miles away), there was a personal disconnect that could not be fully resolved by technology. At least to a degree, they were removed from the action. They were participating, for sure, but in a more distant sense.

Of course, this directly relates to preaching because a preacher appeals on behalf of God and calls people towards a response. We should want as much “proximity” as possible and not allow technology to get in the way. On the other hand, some may argue that technology increases proximity more often than decreasing it. Maybe the question we ask is, “How does this particular technology change ministry (compared to New Testament times), and how do we overcome any potential weaknesses?”

While technology certainly has a place and can be very helpful — obviously, without technology there would be no internet or printing presses — we also need to be aware of the drawbacks. The point here is that simply adding more technology does not automatically ensure real, inner life change. Rather than simply accepting whatever technology is available to us, we need to be careful and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating technology in the local church. The solution is not a boycott of technology, but a greater effort to think through how we use technology.

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Spiritual revival, or the renewal of our relationship with God, does not merely happen by chance, nor does it descend from heaven without our awareness. Both Scripture and history attest to the fact that certain conditions need to be met before we are spiritually resuscitated. We do not slip and “fall” into revival, but we prepare for it.

Thankfully, revival never feels very systematic, but if we were to analyze it, there are certain factors that are absolutely necessary for revival. By that I mean that true, long-lasting revival cannot occur without these factors being present. I have identified several of these, along with quotations from famous revivalists.

1. Passion for God’s Word. Our faith grows when we hear God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), and it is essential for spiritual renewal. George Whitefield, one of the great preachers during the Great Awakening, explained that “The reason why congregations have been so dead is because dead men preach to them.” Often this passion begins with the preacher’s heart, but it must eventually make its way to the listener. We cannot claim to seek after God if we do not listen to His voice. (Jn. 10:27)

2. Desperation for God. If we are content with life as usual, there is little reason to search for anything else. John Wesley observed this danger and said, “I fear that wherever riches have increased the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion… for religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality.” Often we need to lose our “riches” (or what we hold dear) before we recognize how desperately we need a Savior. In a sense, we need to be dissatisfied with our current spiritual condition.

3. Communication with God. As with any healthy relationship, there must be dialogue, an expectation to hear and be heard. Unless there is an effort to communicate with God, renewal is impossible. As Edwin Orr notes, “History is silent about revivals that did not begin with prayer.” In other words, we cannot change ourselves by merely talking to each other.

4. Rejection of Godlessness. It is impossible to seek God and not-God at the same time. Men and women who experience revival decide to give up their old life and follow after God with their entire self. “Revival is a renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God,” observed Charles Finney. “It is giving up one’s will to God in deep humility.” Our lives either move toward God or away from Him.

These factors are usually interconnected, but it is helpful to distinguish them, so that we can see where we may be missing the mark. We can prepare ourselves for spiritual renewal when we desire God’s Word, seek God with desperation, dialogue with Him, and reject what is the opposing to Him.

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Although I haven’t read much of Karl Barth’s writings, thanks to Richard Mouw’s blog, I discovered these deeply penetrating ideas in his Prayer and Preaching.  Among many other pieces of advice, Barth offers the following advice regarding preaching:

Do not indulge in allegory; exercising one’s talents on the Word hinders it from sounding out clearly. One should also beware of intruding one’s own individuality or enlarging on one’s personal experience by using illustrations or parables drawn from events in one’s own life.

Barth’s emphasis on the sufficiency of God’s Word is a refreshing reminder that we are messengers of the Good News, but not the authors.  We must remain true to the text without adding a plethora of our own ideas and life experience.  As I would summarize his ideas, in a sermon, people should hear from God, not an entertaining speaker.

His comments also relate to how we view creativity in the Church.   In the midst of illustrations, videos, dramas, songs, PowerPoints, artwork, and so forth, we should always be cautious of “indulging” in those things.  One sign of this is when we are more excited about the medium than the message.  The two should never be confused.

There is a fine balance.  On one hand, we should use all of our talents to communicate God to others, and this includes our creativity; but on the other, we should be careful to distinguish between God’s Words and our words.  Because God’s Words are immensely more valuable, it should not disappoint us that we are merely messengers.  We do not need to make things “more exciting” with what we add to the message.

There is a lot to think about here.  Obviously, Barth’s ideas can be taken too far, and maybe at times they could seem impractical.  However, I think it’s a fair reminder that everything we do — whether preaching, teaching, creating, or serving — should be subservient to God’s Word.  When it comes to the end of the day, our actions should ultimately point others to God rather than ourselves.