We are continuing our consideration of an article by David Fitch, “3 Myths About Preaching Today,” posted in “Out of Ur.”
MYTH 2: Who You Preach To is Who You Will Reach
I have heard it said repeatedly “who you preach to is who will come.” This has worked within Christendom for centuries. Today, in post-Christendom, it has become another dying myth that [in my opinion] should be dispelled. It says that if you preach to unbelievers in your service your members will start inviting their unbelieving friends to hear what you’re saying. But if you don’t preach to unbelievers you’ll have a worship service full of believers. But again this feeds on the impulses of Christendom—that the way to bring non-believers into the Kingdom is through inviting them to hear a good sermon. This does not make sense to those who can think of nothing more irrelevant and disenchanting than going to listen to someone “preach at me” (often their perception).
It has long been a bit of a paradox for preachers — the flock needs feeding, but if the sermon is aimed at believers, it may be irrelevant for non-believers. As a result, some churches actually have seeker services and non-seeker (already found?) services. Sometimes, the leadership is surprised to learn that the members prefer the seeker services — which should tell us something about how well the non-seeker services have been working.
Then again, the Willowcreek church, in its famous Reveal study, found that long-time members were being inadequately fed by a sermon and small group session. They found themselves looking for something more … sometimes even leaving the church to find it, although they were looking for a deeper Christianity. Hmm …
I heard a great stroy today that I thought would fit well with this series. It goes as follows:
In a small town's religious section of the newspaper, a writer wrote in that they did not understand the point of going to church. After all, they could only remember maybe five of the sermons they had ever heard. They just didn't see the point.
Readers continued to write in to the newspaper commenting on the letter or commenting on other people's responses. Each side debating and beratting the points of the others.
The debate finally ended when a reader wrote in and basically said, "I can't remember maybe 5 of the meals I've ever eaten in my life. But I'm pretty sure without all of them….I would have starved."
So what is the purpose of the sermon?
People have discussed that one all my life. Do we preach the five steps to salvation 40 Sundays a year? Instead, do we have Sunday morning sermons to teach us how to be evangelists? Encouraging? Instructional? Damning? A little of each?
In too many cases, the purpose of a sermon is to check the sermon box, because without a sermon, many feel they have not been to "church."
The other question is this: what can you accomplish in a sermon?
The answer to that is easier — not much. Some speakers can accomplish more than others. But most can't accomplish anything.
Most sermons would benefit by being cut down to 10-15 minutes. But it takes more effort to prepare a sermon of 15 minutes than it does a sermon of 45 minutes.
Can you "inspire" in a sermon? Yes
Can you "teach" in a sermon? Maybe a little, but not as much as most try to teach.
Can you edify and encourage in a sermon? Yes
Can you reinforce in a sermon? Yes
The reality is that what most of us hear in a sermon is what we want to hear. If we hear something we don't understand, or don't like, we tend to ignore it or certainly forget it. We even change what we hear from what the speaker actually said to what we wanted him/her to say.
The human mind is a wonderful thing — but objective is not an adjective that typically applies.
The biggest myth about preaching is that it's significant.
Only in a very few cases, is preaching significant. You can probably count them on one hand.
I do not intend any disrespect to those to make their living preaching. It's not something I could do every week, but it is something demanded by our congregational culture.
It seems that we are thinking of preaching as something done by the paid preacher at gatherings of the church. If that's what we're talking about, then I don't think it should be focused on outsiders. In 1 Cor 14, it seems that the impact on an unbeliever was incidental to the proceedings. Everything done in the assembly was for the purpose of building up the church. It was focused on members. That's consistent with what we read in the pastoral epistles, Acts 20, etc.
I think churches have drifted from that focus because the members really haven't been doing any evangelism. The idea seems to be that if the preacher doesn't use the sermon for evangelism, it won't get done. But evangelistic preaching on Sunday morning is a poor substitute for personal evangelism by the members. A very poor substitute. And it comes at a steep price. If the members are constantly being fed only first principles (the sort of thing that the outsiders need) they will never mature and may be at risk of falling away. (Heb 5:11-6:12).
If the vast majority of your members have been sitting in church of Christ Bible classes for thirty or forty years, raised in the church etc, then their needs may be different. But the more members you have converted out of the world, especially recent converts, the bigger the need for Bible teaching. It's a real challenge and an obvious need.
We have an unusual situation in our congregation. We were without a regular preacher for several months and had various personalities from the main campus of our congregation come in a month at a time.
During that time the congregation languished. People felt disconnected. There was little evangelism going on and we lost quite a few people to other churches in the area.
When we finally got a new preaching minister his first series of sermons (which we're still in several months later!) were on the book of 1 John. His intense focus from day one has been to reinforce that we must love to be God's children.
Since he began as our preaching minister people are feeling connected again. People are inviting people (saved and lost) and we are having baptisms nearly every week.
I believe sermons can and do have an important role in our weekly assemblies. I don't think they're essential but if not you've got to find some other way to teach everyone and it generally will end up looking a lot like a sermon except perhaps in multiple small settings.
Would you say it was the sermons, or the focus of leadership that turned the tide? A good leader could've been preaching on the women of questionable reputation in the lineage of Jesus, and still get people fired up to do what they need to do. Seems to me a little of both in your case – a good leader who communicated this focus to others via sermons.
(Passion is contagious and can take many forms, though often in the church it is connected to "great preaching".)
I don't really know anything about his "leadership style." He actually, from my perspective at least, is less involved in day-to-day things than our last preaching minister was. Really I guess only the other staff members and the elders would know about his leadership qualities.
I wonder what Jesus, Peter, and Paul (the first and greatest of the new testament preachers) would think about this particular post…..hmmmm
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