Does a Post-Christendom World Care for 40 Minute Opinions Expositions?

Updated May 7th, 2018; Updated February 20th, 2010. 

Some churchgoers think that the sign of a good church is the quality of the preaching. I’ve heard, “there’s no community to speak of, but the preaching is top notch.”

Good preaching to some is expository. Good preaching to others is contemporary. Fact of the matter is, the only people who care are Christians. Preaching is a privilege. Not just to the preacher, but the very act of having people sit and listen to someone talk at length is decidedly countercultural. I can only think of two examples that mainstream culture would have this: talk show hosts, and comedians.

Which begs the question, for new churches, or those looking to connect with a post-Christian culture, why is the last thing we think of touching is the preaching (unless it has to do with the style)?

There’s obvious history that I’m not going to get into, but my question is why is preaching treated as central fabric is most churches? It’s not Jesus, it’s not communion, it’s not community, it’s not prayer… what we can’t do without is preaching. I surmise this is partially because many have conflated the term “the word”, and “the Word”. The latter being Jesus, but used by too many interchangeably with scripture.

There is only one Word of God and that’s Jesus. The bible isn’t the Word of God. It’s words of God, revelation of God, teachings from God, but not the Word.

Jesus does preach many times. It’s a fabric of his ministry. But over the course of 3 years we don’t hear about weekly sermons. There’s a bunch in Matthew 5, and then more focus on life on life discipleship. It also made sense during biblical times to have open air and lengthy bouts of ‘sermonizing’ since this was the primary teaching method. Auditory learning was crucial for an illiterate audience. The gathering in the church building made sense because the educated clergy were housed there.

Today, when congregations tolerate 30-45 minute sermons, it detracts from a variety of participatory elements of service and community. Rather than pointing our worship towards God the Father, the time the greater community gathers are spent sitting quietly, facing the pulpit, putting money in a bag, and listening to one man’s perspectives on life. It’s a scenario that only works in a Christianized culture. Yet we live in a time when most would opt to test an experience rather than hear someone lecture.

My sense is the world outside the church walls is more interested in participating in a living community, not consuming a subpar spiritual product on a weekly basis. Count me as part of this group.

But back to the original question, is preaching something that works in a post-Christian world? Is post-Christendom culture yearning to be stuffed into a building once a week to sit and listen to a lecture? We know that Christians don’t even want to do this anymore as attendance dwindles from weekly to monthly at best.

There should be more to community/church than the Sunday gathering, branching out from the Sunday existence is the first step to figuring out how to become co-creators in a post-Christian city.

I don’t think the solution is to eliminate preaching. We should certainly challenge how central it is to our gatherings. We should also look at how, when we do it, it can change in a post-Christian world. Moving away from exhortations towards formation is one method.  Dave Fitch has some insight:

I suggest this little snippet from Willard is essential to understanding the role of preaching in the Missional Church. For here in the missional church gathering preaching is not a.) for the purpose of distributing information and self help points on how to improve your Christian life, b.) not an inspirational talk done by a convincing and charismatic speaker. Neither is it c.)someone speaking as an expert from above – although the preacher will be gifted in teaching/preaching and have studied the Scriptures well.

Instead preaching for the missional church is a preaching among the church, out of the community, interpreting what God is doing among us and calling us living into the reality of that. It is a clarion call to live into the reality that “Jesus is Lord ” and all that that might mean for us in our lives and context. We preach like this relying on the Scriptures unfurling the reality of God at work in the world all under the work of the Holy Spirit. The preacher must speak authentically, he/she must be known in and among the congregation (by at least some people everyday in the congregation). He/she must be involved in the lives of people in everyday life. He /she must proclaim the gospel reality of Jesus Kingdom breaking in, the transforming power of God’s forgiveness, defeat of the powers and his working for the renewal of all things INTO THE SITUATIONS WE ARE LIVING. (I strongly suggest this can’t be done via a video screen).

This adjustment will impact our worship, but that’s OK given the focus of our faith is and was never the Bible, was never the preaching, is always the CHRIST. Preaching is a component to bring a community into the reality of who Christ is, it takes the message of God’s redemption plan for creation and translates it into the here and now. But the kind we typically see on a Sunday morning requires extensive translation to even make sense to outsiders.

How does it look? The community celebrates their time with scripture, recalling the sacrifice and story, and celebrating intercession (redemption and hope made imminent). The apex of church worship is communion (the sacraments). If your worship service is centered around the Table rather than the preacher, you are forced to adjust the object of worship from preacher (or bible) to Christ.

Celebrating what Christ is doing in our communities alerts us the unfolding mission of God that’s restoring the broken pieces in our neighborhoods and cities.

Of course, we already know this. Making it a part of our gatherings on the other hand….