Is Preaching Relevant?
By: Mark Mitchell, BASOM Executive Director
This Fall the Bay Area School of Ministry (BASOM) is holding a ten-week class called Biblical Preaching. Someone might wonder if a class on preaching is really necessary. They might argue that preaching is no longer relevant. The idea of one person speaking with authority to a group of people for 30-40 minutes is considered to be about as relevant as 8-track tapes! With all the problems in our world, what difference could one sermon possibly make? Will Willimon once wrote: “Getting up to preach was like trying to put out a thousand acre forest fire with a garden hose.” Additionally, it seems like the plethora of words we encounter every day, online or in print, has caused words to become meaningless. So why would anyone teach preaching in a 21st century American context that seems to value preaching less than ever? Here are a few reasons:
Words Matter, God’s Word Matters Even More
The Bible is very clear — words matter! Proverbs tells us, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” God spoke the world into existence. He commissioned Old Testament prophets to say, “Thus says the Lord…” When Jesus walked this planet, Luke says he “traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1). Jesus also sent out the apostles to preach (Mark 3:14). The early church and subsequent generations focused significant attention on proclaiming the Gospel and preaching the Word. God’s Word, proclaimed to ordinary people, will always be relevant, no matter what others say. That is why we still teach preaching!
God’s Word Changes us
Not only do words matter, God’s Word really matters because, when spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, it transforms lives. Consider a story in Acts 16. Paul presented the gospel to a group of women. One of them, Lydia, believed because “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). That same day, Lydia was baptized and then hosted Paul and his friends at her house. God used the preaching of the gospel to change Lydia’s life! It changed my life as well. I can think of several times in my own life when, listening to a message from God’s Word, I knew God was speaking to me, as if he’d read my mail! Preaching changes us! Preaching inspires a person to leave a profitable career and go to the most needy place in the world to run an orphanage. Preaching restores marriages that are about to collapse. Preaching brings hope to a confused teenager considering suicide. All that is why we still teach preaching!
We’re All Called to Communicate God’s Word
Someone might agree that preaching is important, but it’s not something they’re called to do. But this assumption is based on a far too narrow definition of preaching. There are at least thirty-three Greek words in the New Testament usually translated “preaching” or “proclaiming.” Not all of these words describe what a pastor does before a congregation on Sunday morning. Consider Paul’s exhortation to the Colossian believers, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…” (Col. 3:16). In Paul’s mind, every Christian needs to understand the Bible well enough to explain (“teach”) and apply it (“admonish”) to others, whether in an informal conversation, a blog, a small group Bible study, or a Sunday school class. It’s been said that preaching is “truth poured through a personality.” If that’s true, and I believe it is, God wants to use each of our unique personalities to convey his message. That’s also why we teach preaching!
Paul encouraged his young associate Timothy to “preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). Like Timothy, you may not need any convincing that preaching is relevant. But, like Timothy, you may also need to be reminded that as a follower of Jesus, whether it be in a formal or informal situation, this is something we are all called to do. That’s why we have our Pastoral Residents take this class, and that’s why everyone who is a follower of Jesus can benefit from this class as well.