An interesting conversation is taking place among many people who are skeptical of the relevancy and effectiveness of certain traditional aspects of the church’s ministry to the culture of today. Some of the questions being asked about the ministry of preaching are:
- In a world dominated by technology, is there still any need for the spoken word?
- In a society that prizes interactivity, isn’t the monologue-style preaching of old out of step with how modern people receive and retain information?
- In an era that is overflowing with educational resources, do we need sermons anymore?
- In the internet age, when everyone has access to experts in every field and anyone can listen to the best preachers in the world, do you really need a local preacher?
- In a day in which video is king, does preaching register with anyone anymore?
Simply put, many people today are wondering if preaching still matters.
My friend Matthew Dowling says “yes”, and you can read why here.
I also say that preaching still matters, but you’d expect that from a preacher, wouldn’t you?
However, I haven’t always been the one on the stage delivering sermons. Most of my life has been spent in the audience, listening to a preacher.
Which is why I know that preaching matters.
For a year after my son died, I was the person sitting in the pew wondering if any of this “church stuff” really mattered. I had been broken by life’s cruelty. I was depressed, distraught, and dying inside. I was angry with God and I was doubting the power, compassion, mercy, and love of God.
I didn’t feel like singing.
I didn’t feel like praying.
I didn’t feel like fellowshipping with other believers.
But there I was – sitting in the pew.
“Why was I here?,” I remember thinking to myself many, many times.
Until the sermon started.
When the preaching began, I knew immediately why I sat through the songs my heart couldn’t yet sing and the prayers that I just couldn’t summon up the strength to pray. The preaching of God’s Word broke through my calloused heart (that became that way because of suffering) and captured my imagination like nothing else could, at that point in my life. And I desperately needed to imagine a life beyond the pain I was feeling.
When I was at my lowest, preaching mattered and here’s why:
- I needed someone else to breathe for me. The loss of a child is so debilitating that it is hard to breathe. In the immediate aftermath, you feel like you are underwater, struggling to get to the surface and gasping for breath. The simplest things that you’ve been doing your whole life suddenly become so complicated and complex that you consider getting yourself dressed for the day a big accomplishment. And when you can’t breathe for yourself, you need someone to come alongside you and breathe for you and with you, so that you can imitate his or her breathing pattern. And that’s what my preacher did for me every Sunday. Through the sermon, he taught me afresh how to take a breath with God and how to sustain that breathing pattern through the week until the next Sunday.
- I needed someone to share faith with me. Since I was struggling with my own faith in God, I needed to observe someone else’s faith; and during the sermon I got that chance. I needed to hear someone express confidence in God. I needed to see someone else’s passion for God. I needed to experience someone else’s conviction that God is good. Like a Nascar driver who drafts behind another car, I need to “draft” on someone else’s faith until my own faith could do the driving.
- I needed to be led, fed, and guided. People do dumb things when they are afraid and in pain, which is why the counselors my wife and I talked to after our son died told us not to make any major life decisions for a a full year after our son’s death. When our world has been torn apart, we humans have a tendency to wander aimlessly through our lives for awhile. But I didn’t want to wander aimlessly; I wanted to be wise in the midst of my pain. So, I kept coming back to that church pew to be led in God’s ways by God’s people, to be fed God’s Word so I wouldn’t spiritually and emotionally starve myself to death, and to be guided by those who were more wise and spiritually mature than I.
- I needed to be inspired by someone else’s passion for God. As I walked through the shadow of the valley of death, I lived an uninspired life. But at least I was aware enough to know it. Each Sunday, during the sermon, I got to see someone else’s passion for God. And instead of being resentful of the preacher’s passion, I was inspired by it. I knew what it was like to have that passion and I wanted to have it again. And my preacher kept that vision in front of me through his own passion for the Lord that poured out in his preaching.
- I needed the counsel of God to come through another’s voice. Please understand that I was not relying on the preacher or the sermon alone during this time. I was reading the Bible and many other books. But I needed to hear the counsel of God from another’s voice, not just the one in my own head. I needed someone else to speak from God and for God. I needed another’s God-shaped perspective on living life in a fallen and broken world. I needed the spoken word of God because there is some counsel that can only come through the preaching of God’s Word – and that’s the counsel for which I was desperate.
- I needed to hear and experience the gospel of resurrection. In preaching, the Bible is heard and experienced in a super-natural way; and every week, the Spirit of God was working on my heart through the sermon to remind me that the gospel of Jesus Christ is one of resurrection and redemption. I needed this gospel proclaimed to me so that I would not lose hope that God would redeem my suffering. The gospel proclaimed through the preaching kept me believing that, in Christ, life goes beyond the grave and death does not have the last word on anybody’s life. It was the preaching of the Word of God that made me believe that the God of resurrection could resurrect the broken pieces of my heart and life.
This is why I believe that preaching matters.
It mattered to me when I was shattered.
And it still matters to me now that I am mended. Not as the preacher, but as a disciple of Christ who still relies on the preaching of the gospel to center me, challenge me, and comfort me.
Preaching is not the only way God speaks or the only way in which the beauty of God is expressed. But it is a unique form of communication that God desires to be used for the building of his Kingdom and chooses to use to turn hearts, both broken and mended, toward him.
Thus, preaching will always matter.
Thanks to “my” preacher who was referenced in this post and thanks to all the preachers who faithfully and fearlessly proclaim the Word of God each and every week. You matter and your preaching matters more than you will ever know.