This is a question that came to me in the shower today. In a world full of podcasts, viral videos, personalised advertising and self-help guides, what good does preaching do? Faced with the truth that the majority of Christians hear at least 52 sermons per year but probably forget most of them within a few hours, what should preachers do?
First, let’s be positive and biblical. No matter what results we might or might not see, the Bible is clear that when God’s Word is preached, God does something. God’s Word does not return to him void. It always accomplishes something.
That much is always true and it should free preachers from unrealistic expectations. Foundationally and fundamentally, the change in people’s lives is not theirs to create. Like it or not, as soon as the words leave their mouths, they leave the preacher’s control.
But that is not an excuse to stop caring. Resigning yourself to laziness in preaching, on the basis that “God will sort it out” is like being a fisherman who stands on the side of a lake and declares that if God wants him to get a fish, He will bring the right one to him.
We might laugh but we can easily do the same. The work of mending your net, paying for a good rod and finding just the right bait is tiring and consumes finances and effort. Even then, only God can give you a catch.
There’s a paradox here. Preachers should care enough to work on their craft but humble enough to realise that the fruits of their labours are entirely out of their hands. We do our part and must rely on God to do the rest.
This still doesn’t answer our question. What is the point of all this?
I could, at this point, attempt a long theological explanation. Or I could attempt to sum up the purpose of preaching in three points, all beginning with the same letter and end with a poem. Let’s not do that.
At the moment, I am in the position where I can’t sum up the point of preaching in one pithy sentence. The nearest I have is part of the definition I am using for my academic work right now: preaching is a proclamation of the Word of God.
Proclamations have power because someone with power has issued them. When preachers humbly and excellently put in the blood and sweat needed to discover what God has said and is saying to the world and to their church and to them, God backs up His Word. Every time a sermon is preached in the New Testament, change happens: the Holy Spirit brings people to Christ, convicts sin, brings healing, forgiveness, peace. Mercy flows, love is shown and lives are changed, all through the power of God’s Word being preached.
When we proclaim God’s Word, God’s power comes. Maybe preaching should be the most humble activity of all. You put hours into study, preparation, thinking, creativity and movement all for 15 to 30 minutes where you try somehow to help people understand and hear what Someone Else has said. The words are never your own and the impact is never up to you. This is preaching.