Is Preaching Still Relevant in Post-Christian Canada?
Recently, I’ve heard church planters lament how little time they have to prepare good sermons; that all the sermon prep is eating into their community time. It’s particularly noticeable in bi-vocational ministers who erroneously put in full-time hours for half the pay (you shouldn’t do this).
In response, many are coming up with better ways to prepare or borrowing stories to increase the polish and delivery. What few are asking is whether or not the sermon (and the service) is even necessary. If you don’t have time to prepare, why are you doing it at all?
I’ve also been hearing from pastors who are noticing a non-church culture has little interest in both the Sunday service, the main attraction—the sermon.
Is it true? Does a post-Christian Canada care little for a sermon? That would stand in stark contrast to the faithful churchgoer.
Some regular church attenders believe the key sign of a good church is measured by the quality of the preaching. I’ve heard in the past, “There’s no community to speak of, but the preaching is top notch,” and, “we feel “fed” by the preaching”. Good preaching to some must be expository. To others it should be contemporary.
Fact of the matter is preaching is a privilege. Not just for the preacher, but the very act of having people sit and listen to someone talk at length is decidedly countercultural. It’s a value understood predominantly (and exclusively) in religious circles. I can only think of two examples that mainstream culture would have something equivalent: talk show hosts, and comedians.
Today’s culture is indeed interested in ‘lecture’ formats, such as the popular TED Talks. I think it’s true, there’s still value in powerful speaking, but it actually lends to my notion that preaching no longer connects with a post-Christian audience. For example, TED Talks feature the most interesting topics and have the best speakers. There’s room for this kind of production, but there’s a reason they happen only once a year. That stands in contrast to the weekly sermon that sometimes extends 2-3X longer than the 18 minute TED Talk.
Despite the shift in cultural attitudes, why is it that preaching seems to be last on the list of things to remove from Christian worship? I’m ignoring the obvious history, but I’m still wondering why preaching remains the central fabric in most churches? Many worship services don’t centre around Jesus, the sacraments, or prayer. What we must have every week is the preaching.
This isn’t to say that preaching has no place. Jesus preaches many times. But in the gospel accounts we don’t hear about weekly sermons. There’s a bunch in Matthew 5, and at other times he enters the synagogue to speak, but the bulk of his time seems to be a focus on life on life discipleship.
It also made sense during biblical times to have open air and lengthy bouts of ‘sermonizing’ since this was the primary teaching method. Auditory learning was crucial for an illiterate audience. Throughout most of history the gathering in the church building made sense because the educated clergy lived there.
Today, however, the vicar isn’t the smartest man in the room. When congregations tolerate 30-45 minute sermons, it detracts from a variety of participatory elements of service and community. Rather than pointing our worship towards God the Father, the time the greater community gathers are spent sitting quietly, facing the pulpit, putting money in a bag, and listening to one man’s perspectives on life. It’s a scenario that only works in a Christianized culture.
We live in a time when most would opt to test an experience rather than hear someone lecture.We live in a time when most would opt to test an experience rather than hear someone lecture. Click To Tweet
My sense is the world outside the church walls is more interested in participating in a living community, not consuming a subpar spiritual product on a weekly basis.
But back to the original question: Is preaching something that still works in a post-Christian world? Is post-Christendom culture yearning to be stuffed into a building once a week to sit and listen to a lecture?
The answer is no. Even Christians don’t want this experience as attendance dwindles from weekly to monthly at best.
There must be more to community/church than the Sunday gathering. Branching out from the Sunday existence is the first step to figuring out how to become co-creators in a post-Christian city.
I don’t think the solution is necessarily to eliminate preaching, although we certainly need to challenge how central it is to our gatherings. We should also look at how, when we do it, it can change in a post-Christian world.
Moving away from exhortations towards formation is one method. Dave Fitch has some insight:
“I suggest this little snippet from Willard is essential to understanding the role of preaching in the Missional Church. For here in the missional church gathering preaching is not a.) for the purpose of distributing information and self help points on how to improve your Christian life, b.) not an inspirational talk done by a convincing and charismatic speaker. Neither is it c.)someone speaking as an expert from above – although the preacher will be gifted in teaching/preaching and have studied the Scriptures well.
Instead preaching for the missional church is a preaching among the church, out of the community, interpreting what God is doing among us and calling us living into the reality of that. It is a clarion call to live into the reality that “Jesus is Lord ” and all that that might mean for us in our lives and context. We preach like this relying on the Scriptures unfurling the reality of God at work in the world all under the work of the Holy Spirit. The preacher must speak authentically, he/she must be known in and among the congregation (by at least some people everyday in the congregation). He/she must be involved in the lives of people in everyday life. He /she must proclaim the gospel reality of Jesus Kingdom breaking in, the transforming power of God’s forgiveness, defeat of the powers and his working for the renewal of all things INTO THE SITUATIONS WE ARE LIVING. (I strongly suggest this can’t be done via a video screen).”
Preaching is a component to bring a community into the reality of who Christ is, it takes the message of God’s redemption plan for creation and translates it into the here and now. But the kind we typically see on a Sunday morning requires extensive translation to even make sense to outsiders.
This adjustment will impact our worship, but that’s OK given that the focus of our faith is and was never the Bible; was never the preaching, it’s always always the CHRIST.
How does it look? The community celebrates their time with scripture, recalling the sacrifice and story, and celebrating intercession (redemption and hope made imminent). The apex of church worship is communion (the sacraments). If your worship service is centered around the Table rather than the preacher, you are forced to adjust the object of worship from preacher (or bible) to Christ.
Celebrating what Christ is doing in our communities alerts us to the unfolding mission of God that’s restoring the broken pieces in our neighborhoods and cities.Celebrating what Christ is doing in our communities alerts us to the unfolding mission of God that's restoring the broken pieces in our neighborhoods and cities. Click To Tweet
Of course, we already know this. Making it a part of our gatherings on the other hand….
This post is edited & republished from Rohadi’s original post “Does a Post-Christendom World Care for 40 Minutes Opionions? Updated May 7th, 2018