ChurchETHOS

Why Is A Sermon Still Important?

Posted in christian thought, church reform, discipleship, preaching by Nathan Creitz on October 8, 2008

Wesley-PreachingI’m concerned about a movement today to do away with the sermon. The argument is such that many believe sermons are irrelevant in a postmodern society where experience and stories are much more transforming in a person’s life. Many believe that sermons have slipped in their importance in the process of making disciples for the following reasons:

1. Fewer people are preaching.

2. Many that are preaching, aren’t preaching well.

3. Fewer preachers truly understand the changing culture today, therefore fewer preachers are connecting their sermons to people.

4. The Church has become consumeristic and so the sermon as part of the buffet isn’t as appealing as the music and the candles and the emotions.

5. Maybe most importantly, too many people have begun giving “talks” rather than sermons unintentionally undermining the value of the sermon.

But rather than allow sermons to be thrown out because the ones being preached are not relevant or they are preached by people who think little of the sermon itself, we need instead, to begin thinking about the role a sermon plays in the life of a local church.

A Case Against Preaching

I agree that we live in a new world and a new culture. We need to rethink church life from every angle. As we look to our future, we as Biblical preachers must always be looking to the Ancient Way as described in God’s Word. I recently heard someone condemn preaching and say that in order to make disciples we need to “Midrash” because that’s what Jesus did.

This is an incorrect interpretation of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus preached! The person who rejected preaching and elevated the Midrash (a discussion where the community interprets a passage together) gave two evidences that this was Jesus’ default position: 1. Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” (which has nothing to do with the way the Jews conducted a Midrash), and 2. people called Jesus “Rabbi”…. That’s it. I had to infer that his logic was thus: a) Rabbi’s in Jesus’ day taught Scripture through Midrash. b) People called Jesus a Rabbi. Therefore, c) Jesus taught Scripture through Midrash. This ignores all of the Biblical evidence of what Jesus did throughout His ministry.

A Case For Preaching

For one thing, chapters five through seven of Matthew (the first book in the New Testament) gives a detailed sermon of Jesus to His disciples. Luke 4 tells us that it was Jesus’ habit to teach in the synagogue. Mark 2 tells us that he was preaching the word to a packed house. Romans 10 asks “How will they hear without a preacher?” Throughout the gospels people were amazed at the teaching of Jesus because He taught as one who had authority.

This gets to the root of why I have a problem with people discarding the sermon: authority. Bible discussions are healthy and good and I enjoy doing them on a weekly basis with my small group (and even more often when possible). However, the sermon is just as important because it bears with it the authority of God to proclaim Truth into people’s lives. A sermon is meant to proclaim Truth whether it is to unbelievers or to the faithful. Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” was delivered specifically to the disciples. He also taught in the synagogues regularly to those who were not necessarily His followers.

Jesus didn’t Midrash the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Here is a passage from the Old Testament that says not to commit adultery, what do you think this means Peter?” Instead, Jesus proclaimed Truth with authority. A sermon does the same thing. The phrase, “The Lord says,” appears hundreds of times in the Bible and that is what a preacher does when he preaches a sermon to the Body.

Conclusion

Regardless of what people think, the sermon is an important part of the overall formation of a Christ follower. It isn’t meant to be THE way a disciple learns Scripture, instead it’s like a meal. We eat meals three times a day and every once in a while we get together with others and share a meal with them. Just because we got a meal on Sunday that someone else cooked doesn’t mean we stop eating for the rest of the week.

We have to have a steady diet of God’s Word and it is beneficial to receive a word from someone else every once in a while. The sermon is not the WAY to make disciples, but it is something that God still calls people to even in our postmodern era. I’m convinced that the people who are against preaching are people who’ve never heard a Spirit filled sermon or they’ve never given one. That’s no reason to deny Jesus’ use of the sermon and God’s call for certain people to be set aside for the ministry of the Word. The Church needs the full spectrum of gifted men and women to be apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors and teachers. We need elders and deacons in the church to oversee and to serve the family of faith faithfully. May God continue to raise up qualified people to lead our local churches closer to being like Christ.

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19 Responses

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  1. kristarella said, on October 11, 2008 at 1.17 am

    I agree, there is a very important place for this kind of teaching.

    I’m curious as to what you think the difference between a sermon and a talk is.
    I always thought of them as pretty much the same thing, a talk perhaps being a sermon in a different setting than the usual church meeting (e.g., a conference).

  2. Creitz said, on October 12, 2008 at 6.44 am

    Sermons are delivered by people who have been called to preach by God. From the prophets in the Old Testament, to Jesus’ sermons, to the 7 sermons that are preached in the book of Acts, to the early church Fathers, there is a long history of proclaiming Truth. Talks are given by people who, in an attempt to be relevant, dilute the authority of God. A talk can be a motivation to Christians or it can be entertainment for people who want to hear a good message but the person delivering it usually considers it a talk because he or she doesn’t believe sermons are important today. In my understanding, a sermon is given by one who has wrestled with the ideas that an author was communicating to his audience and then communicates that same idea to a modern audience and proclaims what God is telling them to do about it. To believe that the only way God can speak to us today is through a group interpretation of a text is to limit the power of God’s Word. We need a healthy diet of personal Biblical reflection, lively discussion centered on the Bible with members of the Body, and bold Biblical preaching that gives vision and direction to the local church.

  3. 2cy said, on October 13, 2008 at 12.34 pm

    First, let me say that I’m glad someone raised the question! It is a good question. We should never be afraid to question the validity of what we practice (as opposed to what we believe).

    I see a number of issues here. First, preaching as it has existed for centuries, is not a dialogue. That’s a HUGE problem.

    From what I can see, Jesus’ preaching was a dialogue – not a carefully rehearsed monologue. His delivery invited questions and he gladly responded to questions. That’s very different from what I see today.

    Another problem is that preaching can, and does, become a form of spoon feeding. From personal experience I know that the one preparing the sermon always benefits far more than the ones listening to the sermon. Why not push this benefit down to others?

    In our fellowship, everyone prepares to share before we gather. If we listen to a sermon, we turn the preacher off (when we need to), in order to raise questions and address them. This works well in our modern society where such things as sermons can be pre-recorded.

    A third problem with sermons is that they are based on the Greek model, not the Hebrew. In the Greek model, knowledge is preeminent. In the Hebrew model, learning by doing, that is, real discipleship, is more important than mere facts. One only has to observe the lives of believers between weekend services to see that “delivering information” is not making a big difference.

    Is there a place for the sermon? Yes – it is one way of delivering information – and sometimes it is effective. But that is a much different question than asking if it is the best method – or even if it is the right method for everyone. Clearly, it is not.

  4. Creitz said, on October 13, 2008 at 2.05 pm

    Hey 2cy thanks for the comment. You raise some great thoughts but I have to disagree (in a friendly way).

    To begin with, Jesus’ preaching was authoritative proclamation of truth. The Sermon on the Mount would be our lengthiest glimpse at one of his sermons but there are many other times where he tells stories to illustrate a point. Most of his parables and teachings are based on “Old Testament” principles that needed to be interpreted in light of the modern (at that time) culture and context. Sure, he asked his disciples questions…I’m all about discussion and dialogue, but watching Jesus teach his disciples, teach the crowds, and teach the Pharisees he did it in monologue fashion.

    Now, do I think that a sermon must be 25 minutes on a Sunday? NO. A sermon can be a proclamation of truth to a friend over coffee, it can be an eight minute story to an unbeliever about how God can change their lives, it can be a five minute encouragement to a friend, etc. Jesus didn’t teach exegetical sermons necessarily, but he had a point, a “big idea” as most preachers try to communicate. I’m not in favor of sermons that have five points and a poem…I get lost somewhere in the middle. However, I am in favor of a preacher taking a concept from the Bible and helping us to see it in a relevant way.

    Also, simply to base a sermon on the “Hebrew” model has nothing to do with the issue. There were Gentiles and Jews in the church almost immediately so one method over another is irrelevant. Even today, a preacher has a lot of different ways of communicating truth. Just because a person is not living a transformed life throughout the week doesn’t mean the sermon didn’t hit it’s mark or it was ineffective. That’s placing all the hope for transformation on the sermon and I never said I agreed with that. I think the sermon is A part of the weekly rhythm of a disciple. Hopefully, a disciple is learning on her own, discussing Jesus with church friends and lost friends, and is hearing from one who has been called to preach.

  5. General Kafka said, on October 14, 2008 at 9.55 am

    hi Nathan – I enjoy the post and the comments, but really, next time, please define what you mean by sermon.

    Reading your answer to comments and now re-reading your post, it sounds like people disagree with you on point 5 [talks vs sermons].

    But the other points (1 through 4, some of them seem redundant btw), are no discussed…

    In a world where the TV spits out how I should think all the time, I think the format of a sermon as you describe it could really tick me off.

    In our church, we have sermons – not talks — the sermon is not preached with the authority of a Spiritual Sheriff, but a lot softer (that ticks me off too, sometimes too soft :)) – with heavenly advice explained gently, but uncompromised, and an emphasis on applying that in our lives — I really like this balance.

    btw- Spiritual Sheriffs are probably those making your point (3): arrogance and no love — we know how vain and ineffective that is…

    thanks for the post – and I like the new blog format/design.

  6. Creitz said, on October 14, 2008 at 10.07 am

    General Kafka,

    Thanks for the insight…you are probably right, the points may seem a bit redundant. I believe I am correct in saying, however, that you and I agree for the most part. I’m curious, though, on what I said specifically about the description of a sermon that you find revolting. You mentioned how that sort of sermon “could really tick me off.” However, in your description you say there is some “heavenly advice…and an emphasis on applying…” If a preacher is faithful to the Word of God, those sound like they could be good things to me too. So, I’m not sure where you are in disagreement with me. Let’s continue a healthy discussion about these things to help sharpen our perspective on the biblical role of preaching.

  7. adam said, on October 14, 2008 at 12.25 pm

    i’m with you in that sermons are still a very relevant part of church life but i do think they need to be revised in delivery rather than method as most of the other comment emphasize. when i was in seminary, i was docked to a B because i didn’t yell enough…can you believe that? i had an A on the outline but B on the delivery because i didn’t yell…that’s ridiculous and one of the reasons i loved my last church because ross never raised his voice. i think much is lost in translation to contemporary listeners because pastors no longer teach but have developed a method of delivery that was relevant at one time in history but now reeks of condemnation in a society which values contemplation. i think most sermons would be more readily accepted without much change to content if the pastor came across as teaching rather than the traditional idea of the “fire and brimstone” preaching. this is very much oversimplified but i’m a fan of ockham so there you go. i think this came more to my attention when i moved up here and began looking for a church because based on the style of sermon, you can almost tell the kind of church it will be…the more fiery the preaching, the older the congregation. the more contemplative the preaching, the younger the congregation and more growth in the church. this is extremely too simply put but this is a comment not an essay.

  8. Creitz said, on October 14, 2008 at 1.20 pm

    Thanks Adam, great to hear from you 🙂 I agree with you that some things need to change. As I mentioned in my post, “I’m convinced that the people who are against preaching are people who’ve never heard a good sermon or they’ve never given one.” I would also argue that sometimes there is a breakdown in communication on the part of the listener as well. There is an attentiveness that we need when we read the Bible for ourselves and there is an attentiveness that we need when we listen to a sermon.

    I also find it appalling that your preaching class demanded more yelling. There are definitely stylistic changes that should be made. We need to be ourselves when we preach. People need to know that we are the same human when we are up in front as we are face-to-face.

    Anyway, good points that you make there.

  9. bigkafka said, on October 14, 2008 at 4.30 pm

    hi Nathan — I didn’t write to say I disagree 🙂
    Reading the other comments, I don’t think I have anything to add.
    Maybe that: your post raises a very important question, but your answer is like a 3 legged horse. Something is not quite right, mostly in the form. Eg: some redundant points, not mentioning what you mean by sermon, opposing sermon vs talk, and authority vs just-chillin, or Truth vs Chat.

    In the end, I think a talk between a “fresh believer” and a “seasoned follower of Jesus” doesn’t have to be a stale meal. Rather, I think that a discussion around Scriptures can really open the door for the Holy Spirit to convict people and produce amazing change.

    Come to think of it, I think that’s what I see happening in my Small Group.

    But, I guess you started this post because you are in seminary and you’re thinking long and hard on how to approach the Sunday Meal.

    In writing the post and weighing the comments, have you learnt what you hoped to ?

  10. bigkafka said, on October 14, 2008 at 4.37 pm

    answering the other question: about ticking me off.
    I didn’t mean “litterally me”, but maybe my very-free-spirited friends who can’t be bothered with “authority” in their lives.
    Jesus wants to make wolves into sheep, so a style of treating people like sheep doesn’t work when they are still wolves.

    God has authority because he is God.
    We have been delegated authority.
    But in the end, the way to influence people is not to carry a business card with a big title on it. This is by exhibiting God-given attributes that make people think “something big is behind this man”.

    I’m sure you agree – I guess the way you wrote the post didn’t have room for these consideration – hence my comments….

  11. Creitz said, on October 14, 2008 at 5.07 pm

    Thanks for the clarification bigkafka. I see your questions and I’m already planning a new post to incorporate some of the issues that are being raised.

    I’ve been preaching and thinking about preaching for more than 10 years now so it certainly isn’t a new issue for me personally, but more and more the sermon is under attack and I want to make sure my thinking is sound biblically and culturally relevant. I’m not coming to any new conclusions, but I am certainly confirming some of my convictions. Again, I will be posting about this again soon and I hope to be more articulate.

    In short, a sermon can be prophetic or evangelistic. A sermon is taking a Biblical concept or idea, understanding the original context and culture and communicating how that original idea still applies today. This is my simplistic answer to the question of what is a sermon, I will make sure I have a more developed answer in the next post on the subject. Meanwhile, if anyone wants to offer their thought on what a sermon ought to be, please feel free to do so.

    To continue this discussion: What is a sermon? and Is it still necessary today?

  12. Aaron L said, on October 15, 2008 at 2.11 pm

    Hey Nathan, just wanted to offer a couple thoughts and also to say that I am glad I happened upon your blog. I appreciate your heart and have enjoyed the goods so far.

    As a number people have said or implied, style is more important that most idealists want to admit. Assuming too much authority can quickly get today’s communicators into trouble. Start shouting or asserting truth without earning your voice or connecting with your audience and you’re done. They will be playing with their phones or dreaming of punching you in the skull before you can say, “If you have your bibles, turn with me to…”

    The reality is that truth does NOT speak for itself! WE are the ones called to represent that truth and share it with an increasingly skeptical word. And there are better ways of doing that than others. I think we could all learn a lot from Paul who became whatever he needed to become to relate the gospel with everyone possible.

    I agree with whoever said how much they appreciated how their pastor exemplifies humility in his teaching. I think this should be the posture of every teacher. That doesn’t mean we can’t have conviction or passion, but is really about an internal posture than anything else. Telling someone to do something (as with authority) is much different than asking something of them.

    Lastly, I love this quote about preaching by Erwin McManus: “I don’t want to feed people. I want to make them hungry.” I wish more teachers went about preaching this way.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 22, 2009 at 12.18 pm

      Aaron – Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate your perspective and I love the quote from McManus too. I would push back a wee bit on it however. I DO want to feed people. Jesus gave Peter three commands after asking him three times if he loved him. “Feed my sheep” Feed my sheep” “Feed my sheep”. All of us have daily access to God’s Word for ourselves. We can read and study and meditate to our hearts content. Rarely, though, do we get a chance to spend time in the historical and literary context, in the original languages, in the commentaries, and on our faces asking God to give us a word for His flock. All of us can find God’s word to us personally, but what about God’s word to us collectively as the Body? The pastor is there to teach “spiritual things to spiritual people”. He can give them a “meal” to feast on that they wouldn’t have otherwise prepared for themselves. In life, we need about three meals a day. The pastor isn’t going to give you all of those meals. But he can give you a good one and then send you out with a hefty doggie bag full of leftovers. God has something to say to His church and I believe a pastor stands in the gap and encourages and exhorts and teaches and prophecies.

      If I could change McManus’ quote a bit I would say, “I want to make people hungry in the introduction, and then serve them a healthy meal from God’s Word and show them how to burn it off throughout the week.”

  13. bjonesnboston said, on October 15, 2008 at 5.36 pm

    First off, let me say that I am not anti-preaching/sermons. But I do want to put my thoughts down here in response to this post.

    Should preaching be defined simply as boldly proclaiming the truth? And why do we think of preaching solely as being done in a sermon format from a pulpit to a congregation?

    I think that it is quite strong to say that someone who is not for preaching either a) hasn't heard a good one or b) hasn't given a good one. This is a big statement that I think needs clarified and really thought through.

    What makes a particular sermon good? And to whom is it good? And why would that person describe a sermon as good (or bad for that matter)? Also, can we think of preaching outside the idea of a service? Why is the service central to Christianity?

    It seems to me that we often determine preaching is good from an intellectual perspective and if a service is good from a quality perspective. Intellectually we may say, oh that was good b/c I hadn't thought of that before. From a quality perspective, we may think that it was good b/c people were engaged. Maybe the speaker can feel confident in what he said. Maybe people are thinking more deeply & applying the message (bearing fruit?). Maybe the worship leader and the preacher were on the same page.

    I think that we have a pretty good sample size to see how effective preaching has been in the past. We can look at the church in America and see how many Christians are reproducing spiritual fruit (fruit that will last?) Can it be argued as effective? Sure, can it be argued as ineffective? Absolutely.

    Can I remember some sermons and have some sermons impacted me? Yes, but I have a much deeper walk with Jesus, b/c of friends who have sacrificed their lives, time, energy for me to invest spiritual truths into my life and help me (personally) obey the truths of Scripture. I think our culture has seen the effects of our idea of preaching. I think that we are still learning the effects of focused discipleship.

    What would many Christians do if tomorrow there were no churches (buildings) and we could not have a service (as we know it)? How would Christianity survive?…through discipleship, life on life teaching/proclaiming truth. And maybe the question is not should we or shouldn't we preach? But what is the most effective? And maybe Jesus didn't separate preaching from discipleship as this argument is suggesting. Maybe the teaching of compartmentalization of Christianity is the problem…but that is another long post…but definitely relevant to this topic.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 22, 2009 at 12.30 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts BJones. A sermon is good if it is speaking the truth and motivates people to act. I don’t think a sermon only happens on Sunday morning from a pastor. I think a pastor has a unique calling to share vision, exhort, and teach and has a unique platform from which to do that. He can do that one on one in a home, in a counseling session, etc. but once a week he has the potential of sharing with everyone in his congregation a word from the Lord. Is it really a word from the Lord? If it is, then we shouldn’t discount sermons simply because not all sermons or preachers are effective. Is it always the preachers fault if it isn’t effective? Could it at times also be the hard hearts of the listeners? The question we should be asking is what makes a sermon ineffective, and not, should we get rid of sermons (not saying you are suggesting that).

      I agree that living life together with other believers is influential, but had it not been for the preaching and teaching of Paul and Peter and others there wouldn’t even be a church today. Did they do that one-on-one? in small groups? Sure, Acts and the letters of Paul are full of personal references to relationships, etc. But a lot of time, they stood in front of a large gathering like the whole body of believers or Jews in the temple or Gentiles in the marketplace. Sometimes those were evangelistic in nature, at other times they were casting vision or encouraging the church in some way. The point is, there is great benefit to the sermon, I see it throughout the NT, I have personally been called by God to deliver them, and they are still very effective today. On the other hand, I see not one reason why sermons should be thrown out. Maybe there are some who are preaching and haven’t experienced God’s call on their lives to do so. Maybe there are some who could use some discipling from a more experienced pastor. Maybe there are some listeners who need to expect God to speak through His Word and His messenger. But the sermon is a vital tool in the overall discipleship toolbox that God still uses to train and equip the church.

  14. Jeremy Hoover said, on May 19, 2009 at 1.11 pm

    I think “preaching” is necessary when understood contextually as the transmission of truth through teaching. The goal of preaching/teaching is to produce disciples. This may happen when a pastor preaches a sermon during the worship service, when a parent tells their child a bible story, or when an act of service is accompanied by a brief explanation of why that act was done. Truth may taught in a small group or in a discussion at a coffee shop.

    My personal view is that the “worship service” is overblown. Yes, Christians need to gather together to worship God and encourage each other. But I’m not convinced (and I am a pastor, too) that we need a structured meeting with my 30 minute sermon as the main event. Not to mention the amount of time preparation for this sermon takes from ministry among the people!

    Great discussion, Nathan!

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 22, 2009 at 12.39 pm

      Hey Jeremy – I like your thinking. We can definitely rethink all of our traditions. Do we need to stand, sing, sit, listen to a sermon, stand back up, sing another song, pray, dismiss? Is that worship? It can be worshipful. Like I said to BJones, the “sermon” doesn’t just have to happen on Sunday morning, but a sermon is definitely still useful to the leadership and discipleship of the local church.

      As to the time it takes to prepare. Again, read back through some of my responses to some of the commenters here. I’ve sort of addressed this already but let me put a new spin on it and make this personal. When I study, I spend a lot of time praying. I spend a lot of time wrestling with the word choices of the author. I spend a lot of time trying to determine their meaning in their context and how I might convey that same meaning to my context. I spend a lot of time in meditation. The preparation for the sermon is personally transforming and if I spent all that time (I try and spend 12 – 15 hours over a period of a couple of weeks) and shared my insights with no one, it would have been worth it. If I can distill my 15 hours of study down to a 30 minute exhortation to a large gathering of Jesus’ disciples, so much the better! In fact, if I spent all that time learning for myself and God began forming a message in my heart and I didn’t say it, I would be cheating my church family from something that God wants me to share with them. Can I say it to them personally? in small groups? Sure, but I’m sharing that message with more people when we are all gathered together. If we did everything differently: Met once a month as a large group. Did away with singing or added songs to the mix. Spent the whole time in prayer, etc. I would still believe it necessary to consistently share God’s Word in something like a sermon to God’s people.

  15. Jeremy Hoover said, on May 22, 2009 at 1.12 pm

    Great point, Nathan. I see what you’re saying and I agree–studying God’s word is never pointless. I guess I should clarify my point to say: I’m concerned about the pastors who hide behind their obligation to study to avoid people while promoting the “importance” of what they do on Sunday morning.

    I can see where the “life of study” can overflow into the people we serve, whether it’s during a sermon, during a coffeehouse discussion, in a phone conversation, or in a casual conversation when we bump into each other!

    I guess I’m saying, the life of study *and sharing of that study* is definitely important, but not necessarily as the main event on Sunday.

  16. Jake Peterson said, on June 4, 2009 at 10.57 am

    Thanks for this post!

    What comes to my mind is what those who heard Jesus teach/preach said upon hearing him. Jesus approach was distinct from the current “style” of the rabbis and teachers of the day. I agree with you that there is an exertion of authority in preaching… not our own authority but the application of the authority of the Word of God to those who hear.

    Matthew 7:29 “for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”

    Mark 1:22
    Luke 4:32
    John 7:17-18; John 7:46

    Soli Deo Gloria!


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