Preach it Brother, or … maybe not.

So I’ve been thinking a fair bit about possibly the central thing we do as pastors – at least in terms of time spent on any single thing (research, preparation and delivery). We would take a half-day as a preaching team to work through a message, then I would take a day to write it and then about another half day spent marinating on it before delivery. So all up we’re looking at about fifteen hours of preparation and delivery for one message. Which I think is probably about average.

Recently I read Pagan Christianity by Viola and Barna, which was a really good read and instrumental in helping the church move beyond its institutionalization. They claim that preaching was never central to the church until a couple hundred years after Christ and really came into primacy with Luther who claimed it was the central part of the sunday service. He changed the term “priest” to “preacher”. Understandably preaching the word for Luther, who was putting reformed theology into the hands of hungry hordes of protesting catholics departing the catholic church in utter ignorance, was of utmost importance.

Viola claims that preaching in the NT was only done by apostles – church planters/workers in the process of establishing churches and on special occasions (Solomon’s temple etc.). They also claim that the office of Pastor is not an office, but a function and pastors didn’t preach.

I kinda disagree. I think pastors did preach because I believe Timothy was a pastor (Viola suggests he was “apostolic” because he obviously wasn’t an apostle, but his theory about pastors would fall over) and Timothy was urged by Paul to preach. Furthermore in Acts where it says the early disciples met from house to house and in the temple, would suggest it was a weekly occurrence.

Here’s where I get really creative now. Try and keep up.

Public teaching was done in the synagogue for centuries, so was embedded in Jewish culture. Furthermore, rhetoric was one of the most popular of entertainment of the day among the Greeks. Rhetoricians were public speakers who became famous and well paid for speaking eloquently (subject matter was inconsequential). So culturally in Judea, public speaking was the best form of communication and entertainment – infotainment would be a good word to describe it in today’s parlance. So it seems Jesus and his followers were using the best and most modern forms of communication that was most effective for their culture and the people of the day – preaching and teaching.

Translate that into today’s culture which is neither Greek nor Jewish. Preaching like we live in 100 A.D. in Judea simply isn’t cutting it. I even had trouble remembering what I preached the week before let alone thinking anyone else remembered (and I’m a good preacher). Which is why I resorted to The Big Idea which is simply one singular idea that I wanted people to leave the building with (there were other reasons to adopt it, primarily to use a preaching team and being able to keep a multi-site church moving in the same direction). I mean, how many sermons have you heard and actually implemented? It’s a completely modernist idea to think that simply giving people information will change their lives. We all know it doesn’t work like that, yet we continue doing it because it’s part of the consumer contract we have with our congregants (search this blog for consumerism).

Researchers on adult eduction have found that while teaching children “by rote” – in other words, I tell-you listen-you learn works, it doesn’t work with adults. And because preachers have all been to school and know nothing about educating adults, we use the only model we’ve known. Adult education doesn’t work like that. In fact when it comes down to it, experts concede that adult educators can only “facilitate” another adults learning. I won’t go into all the reasons for that. But bottom line, you can’t teach someone anything until they are ready to learn it. Kinda sounds like that old chinese saying “when the student is ready, the master will appear” – except we’re not masters… but you get the point.

The other thing that complicates the issue is that we live in the information age. No-one knows how vast the internet is. It’s not measurable. That’s how much information is out there. I can download the best preachers in the world hours after they deliver the sermon. And they’re way better communicators that you or I. I can download theology, christian books, magazines and blogs. I can even check the lexicons and commentaries while you’re preaching to see if your exegesis and hermeneutics are up to scratch. So that’s what we’re up against. So if we’re going to trade in information, I guarantee you, your congregation can get better information any day of the week.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us reaching for the best communication forms available to us for today’s culture and not simply dishing out information because adults don’t learn like that (and neither do you by the way so don’t be surprised that no-one else does either), but rather facilitating an experience. How’s that for radical? I’ll let you think about that for a bit, and I’ll unpack my conclusions later.

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One Response

  1. The human biological phenomena of commercial relevant content is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and its cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it.

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