Last year, at a chapel address at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Alistair Begg, citing B.B. Warfield, said that preaching is the most important part of pastoral ministry. However, George Barna, in his controversial book Revolution, boldly suggests that people’s lives are not being changed much by their attendance Sunday mornings, and that we must re-think the way we minister.
First, I disagree with Barna’s statement that people are not being transformed by their attendance on Sunday mornings. For me, it is the teaching and conviction that comes from a well-crafted message that has transformed me over the years. I have owed many of my life-changing decisions to the Spirit speaking to me through a Sunday morning message. The sermon is an integral part of the worship service, and I would venture to suggest that out of all the elements in a worship service, the absence of a sermon would be the most noticeable. In short, people have come to expect a message on Sunday morning. Here are three reasons why preaching should be considered the most important part of pastoral ministry.
First, preaching was modeled by Christ. The Beatitudes, the teaching of entering through the narrow gate, and the Lord’s Prayer all occur within the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus preached from a mountain, on a boat, and in synagogues. In fact, he announced that one of his purposes was to preach the gospel and proclaim good news (Luke 4:16).
Second, preaching was done effectively by the apostles. Peter preached at Pentecost, calling for repentance from sins, teaching the atonement made by Christ on the cross. Thousands of people were saved (Acts 2:38-41). Stephen masterfully preached, pointing to Old Testament texts, offering life-changing application (Acts 7:1-53).
Third, preaching was valued by Paul. Paul catered his messages to his audience for maximum impact. He spoke to Jews, teaching them that God was keeping His promises to them through His Son (Acts 13:16-41). On Mars Hill, Paul spoke to philosophers, appealing to their desire for new knowledge (Acts 17:30). Paul addressed a group of Jews in their own dialect (Acts 21:40). He believed that proclaiming the gospel is part of sanctification for believers (Colossians 1:28). He urged Timothy to take his teaching seriously (1 Timothy 4:16), and that those who preach are to be honored (1 Timothy 5:17).
I believe the ineffectiveness of the Sunday pulpit can be attributed to two factors. First, people in today’s television-saturated culture are more resistant to sitting through a message than they have in the past. Second, I believe pastors are not sharpening their skills to meet the needs of today’s generation.
Donald Sunukjian, professor of preaching at Talbot School of Theology and author of “Invitation to Biblical Preaching”, teaches that sermons need to be biblical, memorable, and life-changing. He emphasizes the need to have a “take-home truth” in every message—a memorable statement that the preacher wants the listener to take home, above all other things. This is the life-changing element. A preacher needs to consider what he wants the congregation to remember, even if they forget everything else from the message. After all, a message cannot be life-changing unless it is memorable.
Andy Stanley, pastor of the megachurch North Point Community Church, believes in having one point for each message. As he studies scripture, he develops one point from it, using illustrations that all point towards this one point. He has abandoned multiple-point messages to effectively bring memorable preaching that changes lives.
I do not believe that preaching needs to be a lecture. As Paul showed in Acts, we can cater our message to our audience in order to have maximum impact for God’s kingdom. Billy Graham has led countless people to Christ through his preaching. Good preaching changes lives. What we have in so many of our churches is ineffective preaching.
The modern ineffectiveness of preaching should not lead us to de-emphasize or abandon preaching. On the contrary—we should be seeking to improve and sharpen our skills, to bring about the most life change.