Preaching as a primary task of the Church deserves a prominent place in the lives of the believers, the respect of the congregation, and the awareness of the surrounding community. By this I put great emphasis: if preaching is not primary in the tasks of a local church, then that church is dead.
I observe with great brokenness that the Church today has resorted too much to misplaced contextualization that the once highly-esteemed position of preaching has been replaced by other activities and their various forms. These activities and forms are not necessarily worldly or unspiritual in themselves, but too much focus on these tend to dethrone the authority and place of preaching.
Before I tell my observations regarding this unsettling displacement of the preaching task, let me first tell the reasons why preaching is a major task of the Church, hence, its supremacy.
The first reason for the supremacy of preaching is because it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves people. No other thing, no methodology, no persuasion, no philosophy, no good works, no acts of mercy will bring down a sinner in humble submission and faith to Christ except by the Gospel.
Romans 1:16 (KJV) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
And how is the Gospel presented and received? How is faith produced to believe in Christ? It is by hearing the Gospel, and the Gospel is heard by preaching.
Romans 10:13-14 (KJV) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
It is important to note that I am not against good works or acts of kindness – I even propose that the Church is weak in these areas, and should be developed. What I am trying to say is that nothing can replace the role of preaching for the salvation of man and the strengthening of the Church. The preaching task, partnered with fervent prayers, is still the primary task of the Church for the harvesting of souls and the furtherance of God’s Kingdom. Good works will touch the mind and heart of people, but only the Gospel brought by preaching through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit could revive the dead spirit of man.
The second reason for the supremacy of preaching is because it is a primary tool to strengthen the believers. I do not say that other activities do not do the work of strengthening the Church – they do, like worship, prayer, seminar, thanksgiving, etc. What I emphasize is that all of those activities serve their own purposes and the hearing of the Word of God completes them. The maturity of the believer is never complete apart from the hearing of the Word. If a Church event has plenty of activities but devoid of the Word, then that event is virtually fruitless.
Only the Word gives us the knowledge of God’s Truth that edifies us in many ways; leads us to sanctification together with the work of the Holy Spirit; corrects us; equips us in service; and brings us closer to Jesus Christ Himself.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (KJV) All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Psalms 119:105 (KJV) Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Matthew 4:4 (KJV) But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
Hebrews 4:12 (KJV) For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Now that I have told why the preaching of the Word deserves a supreme place in the life activity of the Church, we are now ready to talk about some observations why the preaching of the Word seems not highly regarded like it was before.
The first obvious observation is that today the Church is willing to conduct big activities devoid of the Word, in an attempt to stoop down under the great name of contextualization.
Why preach the offensive Gospel to the hard-headed unbelievers when you can give them programs that will benefit their interests? Why preach the outdated Gospel to the postmodern youth when you can give them ‘holy worldly activities’? Why preach the commonly heard Gospel when you can share thousands of stories and philosophies that are humanistic?
Those are the cries of the Church today, as a product of many meetings and evaluations that arrogantly suggest that the Gospel is not enough or sufficient to confront the needs of modern man.
The second observation is that today, an honest analysis shows that preaching lacks Scripture. I could easily judge that today’s preaching lacks authority and power because it chose to deny its allegiance to its source of power – the Word of God. Many preachings have become nothing but rampant outrages of human voice and emotion, throwing thoughts randomly at the hearers without affecting any positive change or transformation.
This is evident in three ways. First, preaching has been norrowed to a single-verse shallow explanation. I say single verse because I see preachers quoting a single verse from Scripture then leaving it out entirely during the entire course of the sermon. I say shallow explanation because it has become a natural tendency for preachers nowadays to give room to highly subjective experiences and humanistic philosophy to interpret Scripture. The result then is a ‘Word-less preaching.’ If you want good preaching, you should devote yourself to several verses of Scripture that are explained in an expository manner.
Second, preaching has become ‘recycled.’ By this I mean that some preachers lazily just get canned sermons from books and internet and with little reading, deliver such sermons on Sundays. I am not against getting ideas from others, but the best sermon is the one that God has given you personally thru fervent prayers and faithful study of the Word. For sure it is the message that God Himself has fed you, the message that has penetrated your soul, this is the message that you are most capable of preaching with power.
Third, preaching has become a way to adulterise the Scriptures. I mean to say that we preach to promote our personal agendas and interpretations using the Scriptures as an outside cover. So many times preachers use the pulpit to defend their insecurities, to avenge their hurt feelings, to defend and cover up their sins, and some other acts or motives that are far from the pure Biblical motives of preaching.
Lastly, the third observation is that preachers today are much less equipped in the art and discipline of preaching. This observation goes on two extremes: being lowly equipped and being highly transcendent.
Being lowly equipped means that preachers are becoming less and less aware of the basic knowledge of the technicalities of preaching. They have become ignorant and hostile to the proper ways of constructing a sermon, or even worse, make preaching a contradiction of terms by believing that a devoted study and writing of a sermon is irrelevant and unnecessary because ‘the Holy Spirit will complete it anyway.’
Let me make this clear: I am never against completely relying upon the work of the Holy Spirit to bless a sermon and its preaching. I have witnessed that in many occassions, God has blessed my preaching (and the preaching of others) even though my notes were not with me (impromptu preaching), or I did not have enough time for serious study – but those cases are of course miracles of His Grace, and surely not to justify a preacher’s laziness. What I emphasize is that if God has called you to preach, you must give God and your calling the respect they deserve by a diligent study of the Word and its sermon preparation. Do we desire God to bless our sermon and preaching if we have not prepared for it, but lazily just picked up a random text and trusted God for its eternal benefits, especially when an ample amount of time is given for preparation? We must be ashamed.
2 Timothy 4:2 (KJV) Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Ezra 7:10 (KJV) For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.
By being highly transcendent, I mean the opposite of the former. Sometimes preachers, being too much idealistic, forget to grasp the reality of his surroundings. To preach effectively, we should adjust our methodology and style to suit the intellectual, emotional, and cultural level of our listeners, without compromising the Word. The effective preacher is not the one with the transcendent message or the greatest method of delivery, but the one who is able to make his message comprehensible to his listeners.
If we want revivals in our local churches, the basics need to be present: humility and repentance, prayer and Bible reading, holiness and devotion, and worship and the preaching of God’s Word.