There’s a sobering reality that pastors come to realize at some point early on in ministry and it’s this: after a few hours of preaching your heart out on Sunday morning, the majority of people who heard it will struggle to remember your outline, and after a few days, most will struggle to even remember the passage you preached on. Heck, give it a few weeks, and even you don’t remember your own sermons, let alone the individual points (this isn’t all bad, of course, because we can just keep saying the same thing over and over again).
How is it, then, that we can hold to the conviction that the “preaching of the Word” is such a vital aspect of the church and the mission of God when most everyone will struggle to remember what was said even one week later?
The answer is, well, sermons aren’t preached to be remembered. Admittedly, this can be tough to come to terms with at first, but just because sermons aren’t remembered doesn’t mean they aren’t vital in the life of a church. Preaching is part of the routine nourishment that God provides his people over a long period of time to grow them into spiritual maturity, much like food is part of the routine nourishment that we need over time for our physical bodies. Do you remember what you had for dinner last Tuesday? How about Wednesday, January 3rd? Or Monday, October 10, 2016? Probably not, but not remembering your meals doesn’t negate the importance of eating regularly for the nourishment of your body. So it is with preaching, they aren’t served to be remembered, they are served to nourish our souls from God’s Word.
Now there are, however, some meals that you will never forget. There used to be a restaurant in Ridgewood called The Stable where my family went for Christmas Eve. The servers would come with every kind of meat you can think of and carve it right on to your plate, all you can eat. Giant pieces of meat at your disposal, with no limits. Oh, and there was like one vegetable on the corner of your plate if you were into that kind of thing. But, MEAT. Unforgettable. Not surprisingly, serving all you can eat meat is not a high margin business for restaurants, because The Stable is closed now, but it will nonetheless live in the minds and hearts of my family.
Point being, there are probably a select few sermons that you will hear and never forget, although I would venture to guess you don’t actually remember the whole sermon, just a portion of it or a line that will forever live in your mind and heart. It’s great when that happens, but it’s not the norm, nor does it need to be. Sermons are most effective when the Word of God is presented and proclaimed in such a way that regularly sustains us and grows us in our love for Jesus Christ and for one another week after week.
Is Preaching Outdated?
There seems to be increased attention and discussion these days surrounding the need for preaching in the church. In our day of 140 character tweets and 2 minute YouTube clips, hasn’t “preaching” become an archaic mode of communication? Doesn’t the church need to evolve and move on from this concept of one man talking to a congregation for an extended period of time? Isn’t this why the church is becoming less attractive to young people?
In short, the answer is no. To flesh that out a little bit, just because our collective attention spans are shortening at an alarming rate (which they are), doesn’t mean that preaching is any less needed or effective, because it’s not a man-made design for God’s people. The public proclamation of the Word amongst the corporate gathering of His people has been, and always will be, God’s means of teaching, reminding, maturing, and edifying his people.
Just as food and water will always be needed for physical life and nourishment, so the Word and the proclamation of the Word will be needed for spiritual life and nourishment. The Bible itself both models and commands this. For the sake of brevity here, I’ll just share two passages. First, an Old Testament example, then a New Testament command:
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square…in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose…And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground…They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
1 Timothy 4:1-2
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
The Purpose of Preaching
Preaching does not merely convey knowledge, it stirs worship in the hearts of God’s people. It affirms, it convicts, it unpacks, it reveals, it magnifies the character and nature of God in such a way that nourishes and sustains his people, giving them what they need to persevere until that Day.
The preaching of the Word is far from the only thing the church does, just like the rudder is far from the only thing that makes a boat operate, but like the rudder, it is responsible for the direction that a church embarks upon. This is because the secret sauce of healthy preaching is simply, as John Piper puts it, “seeing and savoring Jesus Christ”. This is what is needed for ongoing spiritual nourishment, this is why preachers ought to never see their sermons as giving a message invented as opposed to declaring a message received.
Preaching the Word has been the central aspect of corporate worship for thousands of years, and I highly doubt that the age of Twitter and Snapchat will spark its demise.
If Christ has yet to come back 2,000 years from now, I have not the slightest idea of what “church” will look like, but I do know that as long as God’s people are gathering, someone will be standing up, opening the Bible, and proclaiming it to all who have ears to hear.
I can’t say the same for Twitter.