Preaching and Spiritual Vitality
The phrase “to preach” often carries a negative connotation these days. “Don’t preach at me” is a plea to refrain from moralizing or condemning a person’s behavior. Even telling the truth can be seen as something different from the act of preaching in many settings. But that’s not all that makes meaningful preaching so difficult today.
Those who preach in congregations today are held to increasingly high standards. Congregants can easily turn to their laptops and cell phones to hear from famous preachers, noted authors, and ministers who lead large congregations. The Sunday morning sermon at our home churches, where the preacher spent the night before out too late with the youth group or at the hospital with a dying saint, just doesn’t have the same vibrant energy or wisdom.
The net result? Preaching ends up with a poor reputation. Ministers and other church leaders who rise up Sunday after Sunday to present a word from God can easily fall into the trap of thinking what they say doesn’t really matter.
Although I understand this line of reasoning, I also reject it. Preaching does matter for congregations and for spiritual vitality. Preaching that emerges from prayer and from the context of the congregation’s own particular journey matters. I believe this for the following reasons:
God is at work in the world, and the best place for us to see that work is within our own congregation and community. Preaching helps us to see God’s work.
Restoration and renewal are God’s work, and the weekly articulation of the gospel is the generative center for what God desires to do.
I can learn from any God-honoring preacher anywhere, but the God-honoring preacher who speaks within my congregation and context is much better positioned to say what I most need to learn.
Of course, preaching is not easy work, but it matters for healthy congregations. Declaring the gospel message week in and week out in ways that relate to people in your congregation and community is ground zero for nurturing disciples.
So if you are a congregational leader, do your best to encourage those who preach to do so as if it matters. And if you are a preacher, then take courage to do your work well—for God’s sake.
On March 21-23, we will once again host Journey: From Text to Congregation, a conference for preachers. These three days focus on the work of moving from Scripture to a vibrant, life-giving message for the local congregation. I invite all those who are called to preach and teach to come and share in the resources that Journey will bring to the task of preaching.