To begin to understand the importance of preaching in evangelicalism we must define what we are talking about. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a religious discourse delivered in public usually by a clergyman as a part of a worship service.” I’d change clergyman to clergyperson but this definition reasonably conveys what most people would think of when they hear the word sermon. Another word for sermon is homily, a word more common in Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican circles but evangelical preachers will recognize it as there is no course in seminary or bible college called “sermonomics.” We take homiletics.
In Fasol’s “Complete Guide to Sermon Delivery” he broadly touches on all the different facets of sermon preparation.
True homiletics involves … the correct use of Biblical content, hermeneutical principles, theological perspectives, psychological orientation, rhetorical rules, and oratorical principles.
I think he catches all the necessary content of what is considered to be a good homily or sermon. We need all of these to get the right definition.
For the most part preaching in the church is a speech, delivered in a public worship service where only authorized or credentialed persons speak, delivered according to oratorical rules and principles. Ideally the content would be based on scripture, properly applied and tailored to a specific audience.
By design the central point of the majority of Protestant worship services is the sermon. There are more resources dedicated to this one event than any other ministry in most evangelical churches.
- It is most often delivered by someone who is financially remunerated. Significant financial resources are invested in delivering this ministry.
- The preacher often invests much of his or her time preparing the message
- In most churches the preacher must be credentialed or authorized. This usually involves years of Christian higher education.
- The worship service is the most consistently attended event by the largest amount of people
- The primary purpose for a church to own and maintain a building is to have a place to conduct a worship service anchored by the sermon
- Many people might participate in a small group, bible study or prayer group but will not have considered to have been at “church” unless they hear a sermon from a properly authorized preacher
The amount of resources and status we attach to the sermon reveal how important and essential we think it is. We might not be conscious about it but there is no practice in evangelical Christianity that we consider more important than the sermon.
What do prominent advocates of preaching think about preaching?
Kevin Vanhoozer writes
“The sermon, not some leadership philosophy or management scheme, remains the prime means of pastoral direction and hence the pastor’s paramount responsibility. The good sermon contains both script analysis and situation analysis. It is in the sermon that the pastor weaves together theo-dramatic truth and local knowledge. The sermon is the best frontal assault on imaginations held captive by secular stories that promise other ways to the good life. Most important, the sermon envisions ways for the local congregation to become a parable of the kingdom of God. It is the pastor’s/director’s vocation to help congregations hear (understand) and do (perform) God’s word in and for the present.”
What is the biblical basis for the central role of preaching in the life of the church?
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and prominent advocate of preaching wrote the article “Why do we preach.” In it he wrote:
“Preaching did not emerge from the church’s experimentation with communication techniques. The church does not preach because preaching is thought to be a good idea or an effective technique. The sermon has not earned its place in Christian worship by proving its utility in comparison with other means of communication or aspects of worship. Rather, we preach because we have been commanded to preach.
Preaching is a commission–a charge. As Paul stated boldly, it is the task of the minister of the gospel to “preach the Word, . . . in season and out of season” [2 Tim. 4:2]. A theology of preaching begins with the humble acknowledgement that preaching is not a human invention but a gracious creation of God and a central part of His revealed will for the church. Furthermore, preaching is distinctively Christian in its origin and practice. Other religions may include teaching, or even public speech and calls to prayer. However, the preaching act is sui generis, a function of the church established by Jesus Christ.”
The relevant passage Mohler refers to is 2Tim 4:1-4. It is the most commonly cited text appealed to by advocates of preaching.
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. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
(2Ti 4:1-4 ESV)
In these two quotes see a number of different assumptions that are held about preaching.
- Preaching was started by Jesus
- As evidence in 2Tim 4 we are commissioned by God to use this medium
- It is of elevated importance relative to other mediums of communication in the church
Up until relatively recently the sermon has been held has the pinnacle point of the gathered church.