Is Preaching Overrated?

Charles Kiser —  May 17, 2011 — 43 Comments

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 4 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 sixty-minute program, which prioritizes preaching. All of this, even though within twenty minutes, 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 forty 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 have been equipped to share teaching, facilitating and preaching roles in our gatherings besides myself.
  • 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?

Charles Kiser

Posts

Dallas, TX. Church Planter with Storyline Christian Community. Equipper and Coach with Mission Alive.

43 responses to Is Preaching Overrated?

  1. 

    The disconnect can be seen by two things: 1) fewer people are going to school to preach (at least that is how it seems to me) and 2) many young preachers are leaving ministry completely. I have had several conversations with other younger ministers in their 20s & 30s and they all have quite a few friends who have left ministry or are in very difficult situations. Pair that up with what you mentioned above, the cultural and congregational dynamics that lead some to question its continuing effectiveness and one could come to the conclusion that preaching is very overrated.

    I think preaching is one more reference point in someone’s spiritual development. Small groups and Bible classes are great ways to learn scripture and grow closer to God and others. Congregations do need direction that is communicated clearly and consistently to the “church” as a whole. Then you have other people, like Francis Chan, who question if what happens in most churches on Sunday should even be called “Church”. See this video starting about about 33 minutes – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq3DfUPAQiY&feature=related

  2. 

    My initial inclination is to think that it depends on who is doing the rating. If people over-value the meaning of Sunday sermon(s) relative to their community of believers, then it probably is over-rated. But if people under-value the possibilities of shaping a community of believers, then it is under-rated.

    So who is doing the rating? Church leadership? Are you insisting that church leadership in general over-rates preaching?

    Also, preachers in local congregations (like me) probably won’t be eager to embrace your supposition. Whereas church planters with infrequent meetings might pat you on the back, causing a sort of confirmation bias.

  3. 

    I want to think through this, but here’s my initial reaction.

    After five years of preaching every week, I couldn’t agree more with you. Like other dimensions of church life, preaching should serve the larger purpose of making disciples of Jesus. I have seen the preaching event stunt and even impede this process rather than prepare/equip people to imitate Jesus. We preachers need to be honest about this or we will continue to prop up a system that simply doesn’t work. I’d like to think that I’m the lead disciple-maker rather than the church’s payed talking head. We have a ways to go.

    Having said that, I’ve also witnessed dramatic transformation in people’s lives that followed a proclamation of the Word. As far as I can tell, the sermons in the Bible weren’t prepared by a committee, but they were delivered in a conversational environment as you say. Feedback in real-time was the norm. Kind of scary, but it’s real.

  4. 

    There are many that probably think as you do, Charles. I would not completely agree with you. Despite your good examples, they are not the only ones. Paul’s sermons (as well as Peter’s other one to the centurion’s household) are more typically described “sermons”. They also had great effect amongst the masses.

    Your conclusion and plan to change the focus of preaching in your community is though, a good idea. The concept of preaching that I grew up with is probably no longer effective and needs to be updated so that the gospel message still “punches through” as it is intended.

    I am in complete agreement that actual discipleship depends heavily upon a preacher living out the message he or she brings and lives one on one with the flock he tends. This would also be in agreement with Paul’s words that he and his companions worked diligently each day to earn their keep so that they would not be a burden upon the congregations they served. This means the believers knew them not just for their words on Sundays, but for what they did during the week.

    Well put.

    • 

      I’m not sure that Paul’s and Peter’s sermons can necessarily be ‘more typically described “sermons”‘. To validate that idea, it seems you would practically need a statement that said that they spoke for such and such a time without being interrupted. Otherwise, it just seems to be an assumption that it was so.

      On the other hand, there are explicit statements in Acts 17, 18, and 19 that Paul ‘argued,’ ‘pleaded,’ and ‘discussed’ with those in the synagogues in Asia Minor and Greece.

      In general, in a narrative, it will be hard to establish that there was no dialog. Narratives intentionally edit out what is unnecessary to tell a story quickly. Peter’s ‘sermon’ in Acts 10 probably takes just over one minute to say, definitely not more than 3. That is a far cry from the sermons we present today, and our sermons are nothing compared to those preached by Jonathan Edwards (2 hours!).

      This is not to say that preaching is bad or inappropriate. But to say that there is Biblical precedent, I don’t think that can be supported.

  5. 
    Jarrod Robinson May 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I guess I feel the same way as others…we obviously have placed too much weight on sermons/worship services to be the primary platform to spiritually form us as God’s people. While spiritual shaping, sometimes significant spiritual shaping, happens as a result of a sermon or another worship experience in the corporate setting of a Sunday morning, these should not be our only, or even our primary, ways of creating a culture of kingdom in the context of a community of faith. It is however, a very easy default. Only one of us has to labor in, wrestle with, the Word of God, and then the rest of us listen to a narration of that struggle as the preacher then tries to also apply it to our daily lives. It makes preachers and preaching feel far more important than they actually are in the full scope of our Christian lives. It also feels familiar and comfortable. I would like to see the four shifts you shared in your post be introduced in more of our communities of faith. I think the results would far exceed our current monological/didactic model.

  6. 

    I think that preaching was of utmost importance in the New Testament. But, “preaching” was not primarily pastor/elders speaking to the church. In the NT, “preaching” was primarily from believers to unbelievers, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not know him. This type of preaching is sorely missing today, I think.

    In the NT, the church primarily spoke among themselves in order to help one another grow in maturity. This is also sorely missing today.

    So, all that to say this… I enjoyed your article, and I appreciate the points that you made.

    -Alan

  7. 

    Thanks, all, for your good comments. I think it is significant that a couple of you who are affirming some of these thoughts are “full-time preachers” (not that it’s all you do).

    Where is this conversation in your congregations? Could you say these kinds of things? What happens when you do?

    Alan, per your comments, makes me want to study preaching more deeply in the NT. Thanks for the insights.

  8. 

    A couple more thoughts. Everything we do communicates something. Often we take it for granted that what we are doing communicates one thing when it is really communicating another. So if your worship service and sermon don’t have any visible, viable, or apparent connection with the kingdom (almost a really nice alliteration) then who can blame someone for wondering if we are just spinning our wheels. Let me give an example. We used to make Sunday evening worship a sort of mini-Sunday morning service. There wasn’t really much planning that went into it. It wasn’t well advertised. It just kind of happened because we always did it that way. It showed. People didn’t come. It didn’t seem to really have much purpose beyond, “we have always done this and will continue to do this just because we always have.” We normally have small groups Sunday night but not in the summer. We have since repurposed our Sunday evening worship in the summer in a way that is real, authentic, and shows that a real effort was put into it to make it relevant and powerful. The effort shows and people started coming again.

    The sermon is like that to me. If we just have a sermon because we always have it is kind like you really don’t believe God might actually show up and do something with it. But if people can see a viable and authentic connection between our worship and sermon and real life + the kingdom of God beyond those walls for 1 hour a week it is going to have an impact and there is no way people are going to wonder if we should still have it. I would even go so far as to say more young men might actually want to take on that role as a profession if they were a part of a congregation that recognized these things and implemented things that made what the congregation was doing relevant to real life.

    We are talking about these things at Northwest. The elders realize that if we aren’t willing to have those discussions we will no longer be relevant.

    • 

      I think we need to ask ourselves some hard questions.

      Where do we get this idea that we have to have a professional clergy to preach sermons?
      What is the goal of a sermon?
      Is there really such a thing “full time” ministry for a separate class?
      Why do we gather?
      What is the purpose?

      Then, how do accomplish that purpose?

      I see a huge disconnect from what we read in scripture and what happens on most Sunday mornings. Making disciples just doesn’t happen from the pulpit preaching a sermon.

  9. 

    Charles,

    When we meet together on Sundays, someone is scheduled to teach a certain passage of Scripture. While the elders (or pastors if you prefer, we use the terms interchangeably) teach often, others teach also. During these teaching times, the method of teaching changes based on who teaches. However, there is always some type of discussion and dialog involved. The “teacher” for the day helps to make sure that the discussion stays on topic. We have found this teaching method much more effective in discipling one another.

    -Alan

  10. 

    Charles,

    I think you probably know what I think for the most part. As for your reasons for dissonance, I wholeheartedly agree with 2-4. However, I think the first reason can lead to significant problems. One of the things that the early church committed itself to was the Apostles’ teaching. There was authority in that teaching. Not just anyone was permitted to teach. It was important that they be trained by those who had been personally trained by Christ. And when a teacher came along teaching something the Apostles did not teach, he or she was to be ‘straightened out’ (Apollos) if not condemned outright (Gal 1.8).

    It has always been important to be aligned with the Apostles’ teaching and their particular interpretation of the Bible. As one of my historical theology professor likes to say, ‘Everyone reads/uses the Bible.’ Marcion, Arius, everyone has used the Bible to preach their message. It has never been any different, but our culture is even more inclined to do so. Post-modernity, relative truth, and reader-response criticism leads people to find their own understanding of scripture/Christianity regardless of whether or not it lines up with the intended meaning of the author.

    Therefore, even though I strongly agree with your views on preaching, it should not be made dialogical in order to soften any sense of authority. I expect someone to know more about economics or car machinery than I do. I don’t expect to have a discussion with the mechanic about what the problem is with my car and how to go about fixing it every time there’s a problem. Sometimes I might be able to, but I have to respect his knowledge and authority on an issue that he has studied much more extensively than I have. The same should be true of Bible knowledge and Christian discipleship. Both the teach and the student should be humble.

    • 

      I respect your thoughts about not making preaching dialogical to soften authority. But let me push back a bit – what about incarnation and contextualization? I think these missionary principles that stem from the work of God in Jesus should guide our practice of preaching. Preaching should be an incarnational act – i.e., responsive and appropriate to gain a hearing in its environment. On that ground I think it’s completely justifiable to make preaching dialogical for the reason of gaining a hearing in a suspicious culture. I don’t think it makes preaching any less authoritative than if it were monological; people will disagree with what we say whether or not we allow them to talk to us about it or not.

      I also think there is balance to be drawn between the office of teacher and the priesthood of all believers. While there are those who are gifted to teach and who have knowledge of the scriptures, all have the Holy Spirit and can discern the voice of God. Further, teachers do not master God in the same way a mechanic masters his trade. The best teachers are just fellow learners on the journey.

      • 

        I don’t think contextualization is applicable to what I was talking about. What I was talking about was philosophy and basic worldview assumptions. Maybe I didn’t say it clearly enough in my comment, but I wholeheartedly believe that dialog should be the method of preaching and teaching, as I think we have discussed in the past. It’s the motivation that I’m talking about. Contextualization refers to the forms that carry the content. While Jesus was incarnational and contextualized, he did not shy away from condemning cultural values that opposed kingdom values.

        As for the analogy of the car mechanic, you can read more about what I was thinking in my response to Alan down the page. That example, albeit a poor one, was used to demonstrate that our culture is not skeptical of authority in general. There are any number of fields where the learned expert is respected and ‘obeyed’ or ‘submitted to.’ What I think we are skeptical of is moral authority. And I simply question the appropriateness of accepting (for lack of a better word) this as the way it is/should/have to be.

        Finally, the best teachers are not ‘just’ fellow learners on the journey. The best teachers are fellow learners on the journey further down the road than I am. As such, they deserve respect and authority that comes from the wisdom of experience–something a younger (less wise) traveller cannot have.

      • 

        Well said, Josh. I appreciate your point about moral authority. I think most of our moral authority these days will come in deeply relational contexts, where trust can be built and the life of the kingdom observed in teachers.

        My motivation in having a more dialogical form of preaching IS partly because of an incarnational impulse. I’m just as concerned as anyone for people to know the values of the kingdom, particularly as their own values are opposed to it. I just think such confrontation will gain much more of a hearing if it is done in conversation rather than monologue.

        I do not think that institutional suspicion is at odds with the kingdom, necessarily. People have good reason to be suspicious. An underlying value or attitude to confront is radical individualism/pluralism/the attitude that “no one can tell me what to do.”

      • 

        I definitely agree that moral authority is more effective and acceptable in relationship. I also agree that value adjustment will almost exclusively occur in dialog because value adjustment requires the person to know what their values actually are. However, here is where I disagree and what has been my point. I don’t think that institutional suspicion is one of our culture’s values. To be sure, we are suspicious of some institutions, but there are significant institutions that we are very trustful of, even though there may be significant reason to be suspicious. Science is the most significant institution we trust, even though there are major philosophical and epistemological problems. Knowledge and authority are not accepted unless it is validated and ‘proven’ by science.

    • 

      Joshua,

      You said, “Not just anyone was permitted to teach.” Where did you find that in Scripture? It would seem strange that we would be taught “not just anyone is permitted to teach” while at the same time being taught “make disciples… by teaching” (Matthew 28:19-20) and “teaching and admonishing one another” (Colossians 3:16) and “you are able to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14).

      There is a big difference between a mechanic working on a vehicle and a follower of Jesus Christ teaching others. You see, the follower of Jesus Christ is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Teaching does not come about by training and practice and study of methods and oratory skills. Teaching comes about when the Spirit helps one of his children so that he/she can help another in return.

      -Alan

      • 

        (Sorry, I think this is going to be very, very long.)

        Alan, to begin with, James 3.1 says that not many should be teachers. And I would disagree that the verses you listed refer to the universal ability and permission for anyone to teach on any matter. To start with, Romans 15.14 should read ‘admonish’ or ‘exhort.’ However, that action in the church is very much in concert with teaching, as Colossians 3.16 demonstrates. But the beginning of that verse demonstrates that such teaching and exhortation should be preceded by the rich indwelling of the word of Christ. The parallel Great Commission in Acts says that their teaching, etc. would happen after they received the Holy Spirit. You and Charles have both mentioned this, but I think it is important to keep the adverb in mind in Col 3.16 – such indwelling should/must demonstrate itself richly.

        Similar to the role of teaching, the qualifications of the bishop demonstrate that leadership is to be restrictive. In Hebrews 13.17, the readers are commanded to obey and submit to their leaders. A leader can come in many shapes, I think. Someone who has greater knowledge, skill, training, etc. should be my leader and someone whom I obey and to whom I submit. This is what I meant when referring to the mechanic. Though that seemed to be the wrong example, I think the point still stands. Maybe a better example would be a history or literature scholar/professor. Part of the reason I should defer to them is because they have studied long and hard to be more familiar and competent on a certain topic, usually longer and harder than I will ever come close to studying. (I will say that it is not unusual for a metaphor to break down significantly, though maybe an organic metaphor would have been more Biblical and held up better.)

        However, at the time that I said not everyone was permitted to teach, I was thinking more of the early church after the New Testament. That time was characterized by teachers validating their authority by appealing to something higher: the Fathers to particular Apostles, the Gnostics to secret knowledge, etc. Two excerpts from the letter of Ignatius to the Trallians (long version) demonstrate my point.

        IgnTra 7.3
        “3 For what is the bishop but one who beyond all others possesses all power and authority, so far as it is possible for a man to possess it, who according to his ability has been made an imitator of the Christ of God? And what is the presbytery but a sacred assembly, the counselors and assessors of the bishop? And what are the deacons but imitators of the angelic powers, fulfilling a pure and blameless ministry unto him, as the holy Stephen did to the blessed James, Timothy and Linus to Paul, Anencletus and Clement to Peter? He, therefore, that will not yield obedience to such, must needs be one utterly without God, an impious man who despises Christ, and depreciates His appointments.”

        IgnTra 5.1
        “For might not I write to you things more full of mystery? But I fear to do so, lest I should inflict injury on you who are but babes |in Christ¦. Pardon me in this respect, lest, as not being able to receive their weighty import, ye should be strangled by them.
        2 For even I, though I am bound |for Christ¦, and am able to understand heavenly things, the angelic orders, and the different sorts of angels and hosts, the distinctions between powers and dominions, and the diversities between thrones and authorities, the mightiness of the Aeons, and the pre-eminence of the cherubim and seraphim, the sublimity of the spirit, the kingdom of the Lord, and above all, the incomparable majesty of Almighty God — though I am acquainted with these things, yet am I not therefore by any means perfect; nor am I such a disciple as Paul or Peter. For many things are yet wanting to me, that I may not fall short of God.”

        I think the second passage is very interesting. With Ignatius, Paul, James, and the author to the Hebrews, authority was tempered with humility. How often was Paul forced to defend his Apostolic authority? And yet, he still did so in humility. Also, notice that Ignatius did not even include his own affiliation with the Apostle John in 7.3. This is a very hard concept for us because it is so rarely seen, but I think it must be recovered.

      • 

        Joshua,

        According to 1 Corinthians 12:29, Paul implies that all are not prophets. However, in 1 Corinthians 14:31, he tells the Corinthians that they can all prophesy. It seems there is a difference between being a prophet (which only some are gifted to be) and the act of prophesying (which all can do when prompted by the Spirit).

        If we compare James 3:1, we see a similar difference between being a teacher and teaching. Yes, only some are spiritually gifted to be teachers. But, this does not override the fact that Scripture often calls ALL believers to teach one another. And, I agree that admonishing and correcting is a form of teaching.

        It’s interesting to me that you reminded me that Corinthians 3:16 instructs believers to “Let the word of God dwell in you richly” (which results in teaching and admonishing), but you then turn to Ignatius. Instead, why not look back in the context of Colossians 3:16 and see who Paul was writing too. Did he tell only the leaders or pastors or teachers to “Let the word of God dwell in you richly” and thus teach and admonish? No, he had the same people in mind that he also told to “Put to death what is earthly in you…” (Colossians 3:5), “Put on… compassion, kindness, humility…” (Colossians 3:12), and “Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart” (Colossians 3:15).

        A parallel passage of the work of teachers or leaders combined with the work of all teaching/admonishing can be found 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14. We see there are some who are leading them, but we also see that all are instructed to edify one another and admonish and help.

        I’m not opposed to teachers teaching. They should. However, according to Scripture, the entire church is given the responsibility to teaching, admonishing, correcting one another. From Ephesians 4:16 we can see that it is only when everyone in the church takes part does the body grow.

        -Alan

      • 

        I’m sorry that I left out your reference to Hebrews 13:17. Whatever the author of Hebrews meant there, he certainly didn’t mean that only the leaders should be teaching. Notice what he has already told them in Hebrew 3:13 and Hebrews 10:24-25. The work of edifying and encouraging (which certainly includes teaching Scripture in Hebrews) involves the entire church, not just the leaders.

        -Alan

      • 

        Alan,

        My move was not from Colossians to Ignatius. They were separate points. As I said, at the time of my first comment I was thinking primarily of the early church after the NT. Thus, I referenced Ignatius as evidence that to teach authoritatively has not been granted to all equally. I wrote on Colossians first to answer your comment. Therefore, within this discussion, Ignatius came first, though this was implicit as the background of my first comment, not explicit.

        The common point is that teaching should not be done without accountability. Therefore, all can and should teach one another. But throughout the history of the church not all have been, and I would say ‘should be,’ set as a teacher with authority (and here, by authority I mean the ability and permission to say “This is what we as a body believe”). Indeed, everything I have written in these comments has centered around authority and authoritative teaching.

        Our American values and philosophy (such as common sense philosophy) have led us to believe that every individual is capable of coming to the same exact conclusion if given the same exact data. We as Christians couple that with the belief that we have been given the same Spirit. This is true; but we are not equally able to discern the Spirit. The word of Christ in Colossians is parallel to the Spirit in Ephesians 5. Certainly, everyone being addressed by Paul has the Spirit, but he still commands them to be filled with the Spirit (or let the word of Christ dwell in them richly). If we can be filled or not filled with the Spirit while already having the Spirit, then some may be more filled or less filled than others and thus more authoritative than others. This does not even mention the very legitimate possibility (and definitive reality at Storyline) that some in the congregation or teaching time are not Christian or even want to be Christian. What do we think about the ability and appropriateness for them to authoritatively teach?

        Therefore, the intentional and active ministry of teaching should be both mystical (Spirit-filled, i.e. character bound) and historical. The Spirit does not simply implant knowledge, and neither does having raw factual knowledge and rote memory of scripture grant someone an audience to lead by teaching. I say historical because through the passage of time I think we have lost what Ignatius called ‘His appointments.’ We do not have a direct line of apostolic succession anymore. We do, however, have a wealth of literature, and the one who has access, training, and education of such literature can possibly ‘pick the brain’ of those who were explicitly given authority by the Apostles, who were given authority by Christ, who was given authority by the Father. So I would marry the qualifications of a teacher as someone trained in what the church has said they believe and filled by the Spirit/word of Christ. And I think clearly, that is not everyone in equal measure.

        -Joshua

      • 

        The question is not, and never has been, if all are gifted and able to teach in equal measure. Your point about being filled with the Spirit is the right one to make. Effective teaching is teaching that is in the Spirit, not necessarily teaching from someone who is most knowledgeable or talented. Likewise, authority in teaching does not come from the one teaching, but from the Spirit (or lack thereof) in which someone teaches. Thus, any believer – from the newest, least mature to the eldest, most mature – can be either filled with the Spirit or not. Having one person (or a certain group of leaders) teach does not guarantee that the teaching is spirit-led any more than allowing anyone to teach. All teaching (as with any other type of speaking such as encouragement) should be discerned (which is a separate gift by the way). Thus, I agree with your points, but not your conclusion.

        There is no Scripture that indicates only certain believers should speak when then church meets. There are plenty of passages of Scripture that indicate by example, by principles, and by command that anyone among the church should have the opportunity to speak, and should do so if motivated by love and for the purpose of building up the body of Christ.

        -Alan

  11. 
    Matthew Henry May 17, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Charles – I think you make some great observations. Here are a few more thoughts:

    1. Full-time preachers / pastors are never listed as clergy or official “office” ministers in the new testament. Many will quote Eph 4:11 that “pastors” is a represents a pastoral office but the greek word is poimenas and that means “shepherds” – a metaphor to describe a particular functioning member that takes care and nurtures God’s sheep.

    2. When Paul talks about financially supporting ministers, he is referencing and most likely thinking about church planters, not full time pastors that stay at a congregation 10-20 years. Preachers that use this verse to advocate support are most likely using it out of context since there is no evidence we had full time preachers in the first century that stayed with a congregation extremely long periods of time.

    3. Full-time preaching encourages eternal spoon feeding for Christians and their spiritual growth as well as eternal spectators who just take sermon notes and pass an offering plate. Christians become dependent upon their pastor for new spiritual knowledge and growth rather than picking up a Bible during the week and taking initiative to learn on their own. With sermons from all the superstar preachers available on the internet, why should I go to a church just to listen to a preacher preach?

    4. For a full time preacher, there is conflict of interest to spur the congregation to greater spiritual growth vs. financial security. The ideal preacher is one that would want the flock to spiritually grow to the point where he would not be needed and would need to move to a different congregation. How many preachers do you know want to work themselves out of a job? Ask any preacher that has been preaching 20+ years at a church and I can guarantee you he would not want his church to mature to the point where they thought he wouldn’t be needed.

    5. Full time preachers increases a dichotomy and creates an idea that there is a clergy / laity in the church instead of recognizing that we are all priests – namely that some Christians are more privileged to serve the Lord.

    6. Most importantly, the pastorate creates an image that rivals the functional headship of Christ in His church. It illegitimately holds the unique place of centrality and headship among God’s people, a place that is only reserved for only one Person – Jesus. By his office, the pastor inadvertently displaces and supplants Christ’s headship by setting himself up as the church’s human head.

    • 

      Matthew – I think you make some good points, and I don’t think you’ve ever said that much to me before. 🙂 You must feel passionate about this subject!

      The dependency and clergy/laity issues are significant issues.

      I do want to push back a little on the paid preachers / long term preachers bit. I think you are right that in most cases Paul had in mind compensating apostolic types (like church planters) in their work. However, 1 Timothy 5:17-18 does seem to address that elders (literally presbyters) should be well paid for teaching and preaching. There is no indication that they were not long term members of the church. I think they probably were. Paul appointed elders in towns where he planted churches for precisely that reason – they would be there for the long haul to shepherd and nurture and lead. At the same time, I don’t think paying elders well necessarily meant they had full-time staff positions. It probably means that the significant time they spend teaching, preaching and shepherding the flock – and not working – should not require them to be impoverished. The church should take care of them so that they can have what they need in seasons where they are pastoring more and working less.

  12. 

    I’ll offer perspective from someone who has spent a lot more time being preached to than preaching to others.

    While reading the passage above in our recent Storyline Lifestyle DNA exercise, I began to really wrestle with this question too. I’ve long agreed with that 4th point and have been a little disgusted with the idolizing of many great preachers. But as I began thinking deeper about the effectiveness of preaching, I struggled with the idea that we pour so much of our time and resources into something with so little evidence of transformative power.

    I began to reflect on all the sermons I’ve heard over the years. My estimate is that I’ve heard around 1000 sermons in my life. A THOUSAND! Of all those messages, I could only think of 3 or 4 that were both memorable and formative in my life. And the problem isn’t that I heard 996 bad sermons. I remember leaving after dozens (maybe hundreds) of sermons thinking “what a great message!” and being pumped up about applying that message. And yet, they made no memorable long-term impact on me.

    On the other hand, I can think of dozens of times right off the top of my head where a one-on-one or small group discussion has deeply impacted how I believe and live my life. Even the few sermons that have still affected me to this day are messages I further discussed with friends and in my faith community on a number of occasions after the initial hearing.

    I’ve also had the chance to experience the contrast between monologue and dialogue forms of the same sermons. A recent church I was on staff with had a large worship gathering Sunday mornings (about 200 people) with a traditional monologue almost always delivered by the head pastor. There was also a much smaller Sunday evening gathering (around 20-35 people) that was usually almost the exact same content as earlier, just in a different format. The pastor usually gave the same message, but made sure to include questions and interaction with the rest of us. The few of us who attended both services were always more deeply impacted by that conversation than the morning sermon. Perhaps that was just because we heard it twice, but I really believe the value of hearing others’ input and questions gave the messages more depth and drove them home.

    I don’t think we should call for all pastors to stop all their preaching and spend all their time elsewhere. But I do think both clergy and laypeople should be really thinking about the issue and whether preaching is the best use of all the resources allocated to it.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts on this, Charles. Since you weren’t present for that week’s Lifestyle discussion I was curious how you felt about this.

  13. 

    I’m pretty new to “official” preaching, having only been a member of a fellowship that not only affirms God’s ability to gift a female with the ability, but which also makes use of them.

    It’s been interesting. The church has a different approach to preaching than I’ve found in my c of C background: it *is* more conversational rather than a lecture to be passed down to a passive people. But the sermon is only one aspect of our community. We do have a slight advantage in being small enough to literally know one another well, to become invested in the lives of our siblings in Christ. It’s a missional church, carving inroads into the life of our community. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the isolated and care for the sick. And these things are the important work of the church. Sermons are valid and valuable. But without an invested flock, you might as well be talking to a wall.

    It’s 3 am and I know this is a ramble. I do think that you’ve hit on some important things, but as with most things, it will depend on the personality of the congregation, the religious climate that surrounds it and a host of other variables that make it impossible to say plainly that “this” (for all values of “this”) is The Thing We’re Doing Wrong. But it IS something to consider.

  14. 

    Charles I found your blog on a link from Alan Knox. I think you are right on on all four points. Like one poster said, I too have heard thousands of sermons. Very few have been life impacting. But that is what churches do, preach sermons.

    I think we need to look at the big picture of why we gather in the first place. Is it to listen to a paid professional deliver his weekly monologue? I don’t see that anywhere in the scriptures. Neither the paid professional nor his sermon.

    I think Heb 10:24-25 says it all:

    … let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together…

    If you will examine all of the “one anothers” in the NT, you will find little, if any preaching involved. You find a whole lot of interaction between believers without distinction of any clergy/laity separation. The goal is not to have perpetual students, but functional, mature believers. And that wont happen if we continue to have a sermon and pastor centric system of ecclesiology.

    I have never found any evidence of local pastors/elders preaching sermons to a passive congregation every time the saints gather. It’s always interactive and participatory by all the saints.

    Ask yourselves this question: What is the best way to disciple and interact between believers? Sermons in my estimation certainly fall short in this.

  15. 

    Charles,

    I was a preacher for most of my life of 72 years, and struggled with most of what you have raised.

    Preaching does not make disciples, but in fact causes calloused backsides under habitual pew-sitters, who become so used to simply going through the motions, that they receive nothing of value.

    IMHO an occasional visiting preacher will be heard and understood. The task of local elders is “to make disciples” who become disciple makers, and in turn, who also make disciples. Elders must facilitate genuine study and application of the truths of Scripture. To encourage Heb 10:24-25, and as Jack says, the “one anothers” in the NT.

    No one, including elders, will teach anything of value if they are not stand out models of what they want people to learn.

  16. 

    Interesting, Matthew: in my reading this morning in Dt. 14-15 it gives instructions for what Israel is supposed to do with its tithe. The produce tithe was to be stored up for two groups of people: the Levites (temple workers and priests) and the poor. I wonder if this is not a NT parallel where Paul talks about providing for the poor and also church workers. Dt’s rationale: Levites have no inheritance. Paul’s rationale: workers are not able to earn money because they are serving the church.

    • 

      Charles,

      I think you’ll find Paul applying this principle (workers are not able to earn money because they are serving the church) only to those Christians servants (ministers, if you prefer) who are traveling from place to place. You can see this in 1 Corinthians 9 specifically. However, when Paul addresses local leaders (elders/pastors), he tells them to work with their hands like he did. You can see this in Acts 20:33-35.

      -Alan

      • 

        What do you do with that 1 Timothy text?

      • 

        Compare 1 Timothy 5:17-18 with 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. Neither passage indicates a salary in exchange for a person becoming an elder. Instead, they both indicate that we should honor/respect those who are already leading and teaching. Can this honor/respect include some kind of monetary gift? Yes (which would also make this similar to Galatians 6:6, which is much broader than elders/pastors). But, the honor/respect of 1 Timothy 5:17 cannot be a salary.

        The metaphors in 1 Timothy 5:18 cause some people trouble. Paul lays it out like this: elders deserve honor, just like an ox deserves to munch grass while pulling a plow and just like laborers deserve their wages.

        So, what do you do with Acts 20:33-35?

        -Alan

      • 

        Alan and Matthew, you raise some very good points. Honestly, I had never seen the connection between Acts 20 and 1 Timothy 5 before. That creates some tension…

        I still think it’s a strong possibility that 1 Timothy refers to some kind of monetary compensation – the logic of the metaphor for cow, worker, and then elder seems to fit compensation. Cow gets its provision; workers get their provision; so elders should too. Paul’s vocabulary is certainly robust enough to use the gk. word ‘tim-ay’ in more than one way within the same letter. Immediate context is (almost) everything. By the way, BDAG, the most trusted Gk. lexicon, puts the occurrence of ‘tim-ay’ in the category of honorarium or compensation, but states that a second possible meaning is respect or honor. Thanks a lot for the clarity, BDAG. 🙂

        Additionally, though Paul did refuse support, it was always within the assertion that it was completely legitimate for him to receive it. Yet he did not so that he might be completely above reproach with money-hoarding.

        Yet, I still have to admit that Paul probably did not have full-time, full benefits compensation plans in mind if he did in fact refer to money in 1 Tim 5. Occasional stipends were the exception rather than the norm for servants of the church.

        Given the suspicion out there toward the religious institution, it seems wise that more and more are seeking to work with their hands and remain above reproach in regards to money.

        This is really challenging to me. I’m going to have to reflect on how this affects things for me. Thanks for engaging me on this.

        I found this article to be quite good when I was reading and thinking about your points: http://www.batteredsheep.com/pastors_salaried.html. It addresses a lot of the texts we’re discussing with quotes from scholarly literature.

      • 
        Matthew Henry May 20, 2011 at 3:27 pm

        Charles- that’s a good link. Thanks for posting that.

        I agree that Paul thought it would be acceptable to accept compensation, but Paul wasn’t a full time pastor at a church. He was a migratory church planter / apostle, also known as the minister that purposely tries to work himself out of a job.

        As far as full-time salary support for any kind of ministerial position in the church, the only support I see in the NT is for the church planter. This is what Paul is thinking / addressing when he talks about compensating ministers.

        I wonder if Paul would even support the idea of having a full time pastor or paid clergy of any position. If full time clergy (pastor, elder, worship leader) creates problems of creating a false head (instead of Jesus), clergy / laity false dichotomies (we are all priests), then would he even want there to be paid clergy, especially when we see how Paul argues about every one contributing to the body (1 Cor 14, Rom 12)?

        Secondly, if we just financially supported church planters as the only paid full time ministers in the church, would we be better or worse off?

        Thirdly, if the early church could thrive and grow without a full time pastor in an illiterate society where oral communication was even more important to learn the gospel, could it not thrive and grow without a full time pastor in a literate culture today?

        These are all questions I think we need to ask ourselves.

        Matthew

  17. 
    Matthew Henry May 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Charles – here are some thoughts on 1 Tim 5

    Frank Viola would argue that the specific Greek words that the NT uses for “pay” or “wages” (misthos and opsonion) are not used to refer to what the elders are due. The Greek word for “honor” in this passage is time, and it means to “respect” or “value” someone or something.

    The same word is used four times in 1 Timothy. In every case, it means respect. God is to receive honor from man (1:16; 6:16), elders are to receive honor from the church (5:17), and the masters are to receive honor from slaves (6:1). Another form of the word is used when Paul says that widows are to be honored by the church (5:3). If the word is used as “respect” in previous passages of the exact same letter, why should it be treated any different here?

    Second, all believers are called to honor (time) one another (Rom 12:10). It would be absurd to take this to mean that all believers are to receive payment from one another. Again, those elders who serve well are to receive more honor – or greater respect.

    Third, the fact that respect is what Paul had in mind is borne out by verse 19. Paul goes on to say that the elders are not to be accused (dishonored) unless there are two or three witnesses to confirm the accusation (1 Tim 5:19)

    Granted, double honor may have included freewill offerings as a token of blessing from time to time (Gal 6:6), but this doesn’t seem to be the dominating thought of this passage. It is honor (respect) that elders deserve, not a salary. Consequently, 1 Tim 5 is perfectly consistent with Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:33-35.

    Paul told the elders in Ephesus to follow his example. That example was not to take money from God’s people, but instead, to work for a living and give to their needs.

    Also note that 1 Tim 5:17-18 and Acts 20:33-35 were addressed tot he same elders in Ephesus! So why would Paul change his story to the exact same people?

    Paul’s argument in 1 Tim 5:17-18 is simply this: Just as the working ox deserves food and working employee deserves payment, the elders who serve well should receive double respect” (Matthew Henry 2011 Commentary translation) 🙂

  18. 

    Charles,

    Having spent the last five years of my ministry preaching/teaching, there is not anything you said that stands out as something I disagree with. I believe there is a place for preaching/teaching (despite whatever we might conclude about the role of the preacher in the NT, we’re not living in that culture anymore) but we are fooling ourselves if we rely on the traditional way of preaching (monological-pulpit) to make disciples. Preaching/teaching is for the most part a cognitive endeavor but it seems that for behaviors and views to change into kingdom living, our thinking must change which seems to be the place of preaching. Having said that, I think we are in a dialogical culture and I think my best preaching/teaching has come in a context of more dialogue…someone asks a question which leads to preaching/teaching which then leads to some further discussion that may result in some further preaching/teaching which may… I think you get my point.

    One thing I would like to say though, I don’t fully buy the arguments some make about preaching being an “expert” authoritatively telling others what to do. The reason I don’t buy that is first, I’m not preaching deductive sermons (which I think lend easier to a top-down sense of authority than other types of sermon delivery). Secondly, I am not preaching to a contextual void of people who do not know me. So for all who preach/teach whether from a traditional pulpit in an established church or in a house church setting where greater dialogue takes place, we preach to people in whom we have become servants to first (which involves some personal pastoral ministry) and therefore have established a relationship to speak a loving word from God as a servant. If we cannot become servants to the people we preach/teach among, then perhaps we shouldn’t preach to them (that may be an argument against the mega-church pastor preaching to 10,000 people since I have know idea how any pastor can serve that many people).

    Any ways, we need to have more of these conversations.

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

  19. 

    Funny, the only time preaching is mentioned in the church meeting is when disciple “proclaim the Lord’s death til he come.” Don’t get me wrong I am all for conversational teaching, and in fact a teaching that would allow for other members to contribute (1 Cor 14:26).

  20. 
    James Silas, Elder, Belleville, MI SDA church June 8, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    I enjoyed your article, “Is Preaching Overrated?”. My comment would be, from my limited preaching experience, “preaching” is just one vehicle in the ministry. I have made the adjustments, so that when I am preaching at the churches I speak frequently, I preach more encouraging, hang-in-there, types of sermons–because I am “preaching to the choir.” People who have already “come to Christ” seem to be under extra attack from our adversary, and in my humble opinion, appreciate more “meat” sermons than “milk.” When I am invited to speak for a “men’s day” or other special occasion, I tend to preach more “milk” sermons–which are actually more “fun” for me to preach… How can you not get ecited about preaching: Jesus took a kid’s happy meal and fed thousands!?l How can you not get excited about preaching: Jesus walked on the water, and you can too! Ultimately: I have had a person just get up and walk out, in the middle of my sermon, on the same day that a challenged man came forward and gave his life to Christ on the appeal… Just because one can speak well, does not always mean that that person can preach well, because the Holy Spirit does the convicting, and the compelling.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Considering the relationship between preaching and discipleship | The Assembling of the Church - May 18, 2011

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  2. The World Of The Web According To DMCD « Life With Da Man CD - May 21, 2011

    […] asks a challenging question about whether preaching is overrated or not and his exploration on the matter exposes some key things about what discipleship should be about […]

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