Whether it’s discussed under the subject of worship wars or of what the exact nature of preaching is, this is a good question. Let me just go ahead and state the obvious. I believe preaching matters, not just because I’m a preacher but because the Word of God teaches, endorses, and encourages the proclamation of the gospel.
THE ROLE OF PREACHING
In 21st-century Christianity, we are redefining preaching. What has been called “preaching” for the last 2,000 years is now being called by different names in an effort to be relevant. There is nothing more relevant than the Word of God. Preachers are now coaches and communicators. I’m just a preacher. I find it hard to see Spurgeon, Wesley, Luther, Knox, or Moody calling themselves a “life coach” or a “communicator.” You may be a communicator, but what are you communicating? Who are you reflecting? Where do your messages point people, to your latest bestseller or to the Bible?
Preaching has nothing to do with being cute, although there is nothing wrong with humor used appropriately. In fact, humor can soften up a congregation to make a strong point that might hurt otherwise. A pleasing preacher is too often an appeasing preacher. I’ve heard some preaching that reminds me of the old adage, “He who thinks by the inch and talks by the yard deserves to be kicked by the foot.”
Preaching should draw attention to the Lord, not the preacher. When a congregation leaves, they should be more impressed with the Word of God than the man of God. The man of God is called to proclaim Christ, not himself. Leonard Ravenhill said, “I would sooner expect a frog to sit down and play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata than expect to see some of the slick preachers of this hour preach with an anointing that would cause godly fear among the people.” Some preachers, to be honest, lose God in their sermons.
Preaching should exalt Christ. The best way to exalt Christ is to expound and exegete the Scriptures. A text taken out of context can often lead to an unbalanced or even unbiblical view of Christ as revealed in Scripture. Christ is the central figure of history, humanity, and the Scriptures. He is everything man needs. His person outstrips His promises. He delivers every time.
Preaching should be empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that breathes life into the Word and makes it come alive. The author interprets, illumines, and impresses on our hearts the things God desires for us to hear and obey. I hear preaching today that lacks the unction of the Holy Spirit. E. M. Bounds called unction the “indefinable in preaching that makes it preaching…it is the divine in preaching.” J. I. Packer said, “Preaching has authority only when the message comes as a word from God himself.”
Preaching should have appropriate illustrations. A story for the sake of telling a story is a waste of time. Ivor Powell said, “Scintillating eloquence may captivate people, but it is the power of God that changes lives.”
Preaching should be engaging. The preacher should draw people to the text and the time in which it was written. He should tell them why it was written and then lead them to the “what now” of why it has application for today. Too many sermons today are long on application and illustration to try to make God engaging. God Himself and His Word are engaging if handled properly.
Recently, we had a gentleman take an entire worship service to do nothing but quote the entire book of Revelation from memory. It was amazing. People were captivated, not by the person, not by powerpoint slides, not by videos, but by the pure spoken, unadulterated Word of God. There is power in the Word, not in our words.
Preaching should be done without trying to manipulate results. The results belong to God. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts and convinces. I remember Ron Dunn telling of a time when he was preaching, and he said it was as if God spoke to him and said, “Now, step back and watch what I can do.” That night dozens were saved. Preaching is God’s work in the final analysis. The consequences are at his disposal. A. C. Dixon said, “Every preacher is, or ought to be, a prophet of God who preaches as God bids him without regard to results.”
THE ROLE OF THE PEW SITTER
Surely there is more to listening to a sermon than listening to a sermon. Vance Havner said that too many people sit, soak, and sour. They think they are growing mellow with age, but in reality, they are about to rot.
The role of the pew sitter is to come prepared to hear. It means, among other things:
Why in the world do people expect a pastor to study all week when they have no intention of writing down one word the preacher says. If you are going to approach the Word of God and the delivery of a sermon like that, you have greater respect and awe for first grade English than you do for God the Father. You were expected to take notes in school and to study. Why is it when people come to things eternal, they put their brains in neutral, their arms are folded, and they stare at the preacher with a look that says nobody’s home?
I expect people to bring their Bibles and to take notes. Why? The Word of God and the souls of men are the only things that are going to last throughout eternity. Why? Because you forget over 90% of what you hear in the first 24 hours if you don’t write it down. Why? Because you may need that truth somewhere down the road. Why? Because if it’s worth your time to be in church, it’s worth your time to jot down a few things that God says to you in that hour.
I’ve often wondered why it matters to people that I have a “fresh” Word from God each week when their lives are as stale as bread from an abandoned bakery. They couldn’t tell you one text I’ve preached from. They couldn’t give you two truths or principles I’ve laid out for them if their eternal security depended on it.
I know—I see it everywhere I go. People sit, never open their Bibles, never take a pen or pencil out to write down a note. There is little wonder why our churches are so callous, carnal, and casual. We’ve lost all respect for the Word of God. We aren’t moved by it or interested in it, and we certainly aren’t going to engage ourselves in the study of it or apply it to our daily lives.
Does preaching matter? Yes, but only if you let it. As Howard Hendricks said, “You are responsible for what you hear. Not only what you heard, but what you would have heard if you had been listening.”
Jesus said it this way, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear…” Are you paying attention? Preachers? Pew sitters? If we were, we might have a revival. How can I say that? Because most of the great revivals have been the result of a return to the Word of God and the preaching of the Word with power.
(Copyright 2011, Michael Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.