I have honestly wondered about putting preaching so high on this list. Because it is such a biblically valid expression of Ministry of the Word, that some people act as if it is the only sort there is. Which suffocates the church. But it is vital. It’s rather like oxygen: I need oxygen in order to live, but give me only oxygen to breathe and I’ll die.
Preaching is the public and irrefutable voice of God. As his Word is opened and explored, adored and applied, so men and women lay their lives down before him again. As our Reformers always said, expository preaching is the means Christ uses to rule his church. We learn what is his Truth, and we learn to rule our lives by it.
This is a church-based activity. It is more than a preacher having a Quiet Time in public. Preaching is how Christ tends the relationships between the members of the church, and how he makes it clear to them what his claims are rather than those in the rest of the public square. Preaching is where the idols of the day are shown for the shabby trollopes they are, and Christ reigns. Preaching is where Christ addresses his people all together, and makes them face each other as well as him. It is God’s word on the big canvas.
At its best, preaching produces a mature, wise congregation which knows how to handle God’s word with carefulness and reverence.
What could possibly go wrong? Leave aside heresy, stodginess, triteness, superficiality and predictability. Those are all obviously where preaching goes bad. But what could harm a church when preaching is good, but wrongly emphasised?
What about when people go to church to hear a really ‘great’ preacher, almost as an audience goes to hear someone speak? Is that what preaching is meant for?
Most of us preachers do not face that temptation. We cannot hold, and do not want to hold, a crowd by the force of our oratory. We might also be troubled by that model producing passive consumers instead of loving disciples. So what are we to do? What is the unique contribution of biblical, expository preaching?
- We must take responsibility for addressing the people from scripture as a church. They are not just a crowd of individuals. At the end of our sermons, people should turn to their neighbours and say, ‘What must we do about this?’
- We must take responsibility for addressing the people from scripture as a body, with different needs, questions and contributions. We need to know our people.
- We must take responsibility for helping people to live under scripture, here and now. The idols of our day must be named and exposed, so that the ordinary church member can begin to make the connections as well. That means knowing them well enough to name their idols.
- We must take responsibility for addressing the people as those who together need direction from scripture. So we can say, ‘In the light of what we have seen, from today this church, we, us…’
The star preachers never have to do those things. They can say their stuff and go back to their studies. But those of us who lead churches know that we must address the task of helping these people obey God’s word, separately and together, here and now.
- In your preaching for this Sunday, are you speaking to the church as a church, or just as a crowd of individuals? Are you going to address the relationships between the members? How does that make you pray?
- Do you know the people? Do you have their names and faces in mind as you prepare? How does that make you pray?
- What is the application of your preaching to the church’s budget and diary? How does that make you pray?