Is Preaching THAT Necessary?
When I was in the 7th grade, I had a huge crush on a girl. We were in the same homeroom class, which meant that we were together the entire day. We sat next to each other, talked approximately all day with each other, and whenever the teacher was agitated with us, we would revert to passing notes to each other. I liked her more intimately than she liked me and I would often express that to her—in many ways. I recall a moment when her best friend informed me that she wanted me to ask her to be my date for the Valentine’s Day school dance. Comically speaking, that knowledge alone cranked up my creative juices and I was moved by the Holy Spirit to make this Valentine’s Day invitation a divine one. Maybe the Holy Spirit wasn’t too much involved in this experience, but I do remember devising a plan that I thought was a winner. I bought a dozen roses (remember I was only in the 7th grade) and had her friends give them to her throughout the day. I wrote love notes that were inspired by Romeo and Juliet. Lastly, I convinced the principal to allow me to record a message to be played over the loudspeakers. As we were sitting in social studies, right before the bell rang, the principal got the entire school’s attention by saying, “Attention. Attention. This message is for a special young lady brought to you by Mr. Steven Brice.” At that moment, sweat began to accumulate in my hands. As the recorded message proceeded to disclose her name, her facial expression sent a mixed message. I saw a slight grin, but it was almost as if she was embarrassed. While the class responded by saying, “Awww,” and my friends, “You’re the man,” she asked if I could walk her to the bus stop. I was puzzled. She never asked me to walk her to the bus stop because that was a normal routine we had. As we walked to the bus stop, she was silent, but I was relishing at the fact that I was the man. Once we arrived, she looked at me and said, “Was it that serious? I mean, it was nice and all, but you didn’t need to do all that.”
As I reminisce on that event that deflated my ego, I think there is a point that can be drawn from my embarrassing, comical experience. Inviting my 7th grade crush to the Valentine’s Day dance wasn’t an issue, but it was the excessiveness and perhaps overbearing impulsion that may have been a turn off. I wonder if the excessiveness of preaching has turned some people off within secular communities, or even in Christian circles.
I started preaching at the age of 16 in Brooklyn, New York. I was trained and taught the art and science of expository preaching from one of, in my opinion, the most skillful expositors that I have ever heard across denominations. I grew up in an African American religious tradition that greatly valued preaching. I valued and continue to value preaching. I love preaching, I love preachers, and I love listening to preachers. During the early years of my preaching journey, I would sit and watch hours upon hours of preaching on YouTube and on DVD. I have listened to preachers from the likes of Dr. E. Dewey Smith to Andy Stanley to my favorite preacher of all time, Bishop T.D. Jakes. Preaching is in my family line, it is in my blood, is it on my mind, and it is in my future, but something is happening internally as it relates to my relationship with preaching—there is a question that bombards me: “Is preaching still that necessary?”
The word that in the above question implies that preaching is necessary, but it also questions if it is needed as much as it once was. In a traditional Sunday worship service, the preaching moment receives more time than any other aspect of the worship service. As one who grew up in the African American religious tradition, preaching was arguably the main reason why the church would assemble. But what did preaching do for the listener? For me, preaching introduced me to Jesus and invited me to say yes to Jesus. Preaching reminded me of the spiritual fight that we Christians were currently in, and the necessity to put on the full armor of God. Preaching reminded me of the charge to be a disciple that would make disciples. Preaching informed me that God is on a mission, for a mission, and is inviting Christians to be a part of the mission.
The question then is, is preaching doing the same thing today? Well, yes. Preaching is doing the same thing, at least good healthy, gospel-centric preaching. Maybe a better question is, has preaching enabled the listeners to do just that—just listen? In other words, are listeners moved to some form of spiritual and/or practical action as a result of hearing a sermon? With the weekly routine of listening to a nice sermon, have listeners become so accustomed to listening to a sermon to where even if there was a call to action, it would go in one ear and out the other? Where is the fruit being displayed in someone's life as a result of listening to a sermon almost every week? For the preacher, what can one literally say week after week? After a while, would a preacher begin to recycle the same stories, Scriptures, and sermon notes? What happens when Saturday rolls around and you still haven’t discovered what you will be preaching on the following day? Will you make something up just to fulfill an assignment based off of routine? Why does preaching have to occur every Sunday?
As it has been statistically proven, as people are vastly leaving the pews (or theater seats), maybe it is time for preachers and church leaders to change it up and rethink how we are delivering what we believe to be the Word of God. Maybe there is a need for those who sit in our pews week in and week out to dive into the Scriptures as a co-studier opposed to a message being downloaded into them without the avenue of engaging in a conversation. Even the excessiveness of “good” preaching can cause someone like me to be addicted to just the glamour and excitement of the preaching moment.
Preaching is necessary, but is it that necessary? What do you think?