Friday, May 27, 2005

The Death of Preaching (as we know it)

Everytime I stand before my congregation to preach, I have this nagging feeling that I'm perpetuating an antiquated art form that if it disappeared tomorrow, no one would notice. When I consider some of the innane comments that I often receive after a "well-crafted" sermon, I wonder whether we were in the same worship service (this is not an uncommon experience for preachers). John Buchanan, Presbyterian Pastor and Editor of Christian Century, cites author Anne Lamott's (Travelling Mercies and Plan B) frequent reference to the sermons of her own pastor as evidence of the continuing influential place of preaching in our culture. This may be true for Anne Lamott, but I doubt it reflects the general population.

I recently heard Methodist Consultant, Bill Easum ( state that any pastor who spends more than two hours a week preparing sermons is wasting their time. He was noting how pastors in America's fastest growing churches don't have time anymore to devote the kind of preparation they once did to the sermon and whether one spends fifteen hours a week studying the greek antecedent to a particular word, or two hours preparing a general outline, the resulting impact is the same.

Everyone knows that most pastors fudge their answers when asked, "how many hours a week do you spend preparing your sermon?" (as if the number of hours spent is directly proportional the quality of the sermon). Perhaps it's time for us to be honest about the place of the sermon in the life of the church. Whether John Buchanan or Bill Easum is right, I don't know. As for me, given the opportunity to sit amidst my dusty commentaries or mull and pray over a particular sermon text as I walk down the fifth fairway, I'll take the fairway every time. If preaching is a dying art form, at the very least we should give it a decent burial. Fore!


At 12:08 AM, Blogger Jesuspower said...

Preaching is not an art form! It is proclaiming the truth of God to your congregation. The only reason you should give it up is if you were not saved in the first place.
Just in case (you never know in todays world)
You are saved when you place your faith in God to keep you from Hell.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger BJBergfalk said...

Some form of "proclamation of the truth" will likely be an integral part of the Christian Church for the foreseeable future. That it will continue to look like the kind of preaching we've become accustomed to is doubtful (but I could be wrong). That my salvation would be called into question because of my observations about preaching seems like a pretty big leap. One always has the choice not to read and/or comment on a blog if the nature of the content is either too provocative or causes a response within oneself that is uncharitable.

At 1:04 PM, Blogger theultrarev said...

I would have called your salvation into question because of the beer and cigars not your stance on preaching.

At 8:21 AM, Anonymous tomb said...

As you've observed, perpetuating an antiquated art form is not an adequate motivation for preaching. On the other hand, you have the awesome opportunity and gift to lead people into the presence of God, and the current church culture has given you a weekly opportunity to speak to your entire flock, herd, or groupies. That would seem like a uniquely valuable opportunity, for which praying and planning and preparation would be justified. If the way you are preaching is antiquated, don't do it, unless it is the what your people need.

At 10:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some thoughts:

Your comments on the (in-)effectiveness of preaching suffer from their subjectivity. You say you have a "nagging feeling" that preaching (or your preaching anyway) is antiquated, and you offer varied observations of a couple of other people, but what is the actual evidence? Perhaps I could suggest that your subjective opinion does a disservice to the parishioner who attends your church with a genuine desire to be spiritualy fed. If I go to see my doctor, I (rightly) expect him to be knowledgeable and well-prepared, whether or not he "feels" like his practice of medicine is effective or relevant. I wonder if you have any idea what your preaching really means to the people who expect to hear God's Word in your words. As I'm sure you know, there are preachers whose preaching still fills pews with hungry listeners.
Perhaps the problem is not that preaching is dead, but that you'd like it to die. Preaching is hard work! Perhaps more time in the study with God, laboring in the preparation of real and important messages will, with time, offer more reliable evidence of the "death" of preaching.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger BJBergfalk said...

In response to annonymous--

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate your sensibilities about an apparent relationship between preparation and effectiveness in the act of preaching. If you knew my preaching (perhaps you do?) I seldom enter into the act of preaching ill-prepared.

When I have this "nagging feeling" and even go so far as to suggest that preaching (as we know it) must die, I am really suggesting that along with all the other diffcult chnages that accompany the church passing through "post-modern" transition, preaching will not escape unscathed.

That people are hungry to be "spiritually fed" I don't doubt. That the "effectiveness" of preaching can be measured by the size of a congregation is doubtful. I'm confident that I could fill the local auditorium if I preached a watered-down properity gospel and assured people that God was interested in blessing them no matter what.

It must be remembered that the function of peaching in the act of worship as we know it developed out of the academic culture of the middle-ages. I wonder how much time Peter spent preparing for his sermon on Pentecost?


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