The Problem With Preaching

Any time a person 'attacks' preaching, it's bound to cause a stir.  Next Wave publishes an article, The Problem with Preaching that begins:

Preaching is a big problem. After many years of preaching, listening to sermons, studying the scriptures, participating in 'church' leadership & studying the western church (in New Zealand), I'm becoming convinced that preaching often does more harm than good. Preaching, as it is practiced in modern churches, is extra-biblical, a poor form of communication, and creates dependency.

It goes on to layout a number of reasons why their are problems with preaching:

1. Preaching is Extra-Biblical

2. Preaching is an Ineffective Form of Communication

3. Preaching Limits Learning, Discussion & Debate

4. Preaching Doesn't Usually Change Lives

5. Preaching Can Foster Biblical Illiteracy

6. Preaching Disempowers People 

(and the list goes on…)

I'm sure this will divide right down the 'pomo-emergent' vs. 'evangelical' lines as to how people respond to the post.   There are so many ways we could slice this.  (I don't know if the assumption is preaching is the magic bullet to solve all problems, but there seems there is a lot of straw man arguments. Eg.  'Preaching doesn't change lives' of course, the Holy Spirit does and it uses His Word.)

Preaching as the function of church is under attack and will continue to be under great scrutiny.  A post at Church Marketing Sucks about Making the Most of Your Sermon illicted responses such as, "To me the sermon is a pretty small percentage of the ministry of the church." Yet, I would venture that this is the majority of where preaching pastors spend their time.

At Faithworks, Tom Allen writes an article entitled, Is Our Preaching Out of Touch where he states, "In an emerging church culture that values authenticity above all else, such an approach to preaching creates an artificial distance with the congregation."  He goes on to quote Paggit:

For Pagitt, (preaching) is unhealthy — even abusive — to suggest that only a few, privileged individuals can speak for God. "Why do I get to speak for 30 minutes and you don't?"“A sermon is often a violent act,” says Pagitt, a key figure among emerging leaders. “It’s a violence toward the will of the people who have to sit there and take it.” To treat the sermon as an oratorical performance delivered by a paid and trained professional who claims to speak for God sets up an artificial power imbalance within the congregation, Pagitt says.

The Problem With Preaching article ends with this suggestion:

I believe that a better & more scriptural alternative (to preaching) is personal and corporate Bible study, listening to God, discussion, and working together in mutually-accountable community to help each other apply biblical truths in our lives, community and world.

  • david fairchild

    September 18, 2006, 2:36 pm

    I think one of a few things we as the universal church need to do is offer a thoughtful apologetic on why we preach. I’m seriously thinking about teaching this at SDSU. Why do we preach? Why do we come to church? What is the church?

    Most of the questions raised today about preaching start with certain presuppositions about what it is. I think we need to get to their reasons for dismissing preaching and deal with that. There is nothing that can replaced the need for the preached word, nothing. I know that is a strong statement, but that is because I have a high view of the preaching of the gospel and kingdom. Whether in Pauline thinking where the preached gospel brings life (justification) or in the gospels where Christ preached the gospel which was the gospel of the kingdom, both need to be first and foremost announced and proclaimed. No this doesn’t need to happen only in a gathered context. It can and should be part of our scattered worship as well on a daily basis. Yet, when the called out people of God gather together for worship, the word and sacrament is the primary means of Christian nutrition. To dismiss or degrade preaching is not only to slip into a different form, it is to move from nutrition of the saints to malnutrition.

    To me the whole discussion is one of authority and proclamation in the emerging church. God has called elders to himself to preach the word in season and out of season. These men are given the unique task of making the word of God understandable and applicable to the whole of life as the lorship of Christ begins to dominate every aspect of our thinking, feeling, and doing. To do away with preaching, is to do away with the primary method that God has used through multiple generations and a variety of cultural and religious contexts to announced His kingdom. What gospel are we brining if not the gospel proclaimed? It isn’t simple an invitation to repent and believe, it is a command spoken in humble yet courageous authority by human instruments. I won’t get into the history of kingdom announcements within and outside of the Christian message, but suffice to say, when we look at the kingdom and its message carefully, and when we consider the centrality of the message of the gospel, the gospel message is not a series of nice philosophical musings to be pondered in a social “what does this mean to you” setting (not that that can’t happen too), it is a message annoucned, proclaimed, preached, which clearly describes who the true Lord of the universe is, what he’s done, and how you can have peace with Him through the finished work of Jesus the Christ who bled to death on a Roman cross, gave up His spirit at death, and who raised again defeating our great enemies of sin, satan, and death. This is very basic of course, but I use this to demonstrate that at the core of what Paul and the apostles and disciples actions when they went out into the harvest, was not just social justice (though important), not just gathering and reflective community (though important), but faithfully, fearfully, humbly, and with great pain, tears, and toil they preached the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all who would hear. Resulting not in their human comfort but in their death. They died because they dared to preach against the idols of this world and the false messiahs and false kings who attempted to take thrones reserved for the Lord Jesus. They died precisely because of preaching the gospel, not by avoiding it. This is why mobs and riots were upsetting to the local magistrates. These men came and preached foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. God uses the preached word as the primary means of salvation since in it is contained the message of truth communicated from truth incarnate, Jesus Christ by the empowering work of the Holy Spirit which loves to take this preached word and press it into the heart of those marked out for salvation from before time began.

    I know it isn’t popular in a postmoder context because in this is wrapped up problems with epistemology, authority, inspiration, ecclesiology, and host of other issues our generation is forever inventing was to dismiss and twist into a feel-good discussion of deep introspection to plumb the depths of your soul to find the truth within. As noble as the quest may be to rethink our methodology (and I do think it is a healthy thing to think through this) there is no nobility in obscuring the preaching of the gospel or rejecting the authority of its content.

  • david fairchild

    September 18, 2006, 2:39 pm

    Pardon the typos in the above post, I was typing way too fast!!!! 🙂

  • Melissa (Larry's wife) :-)

    September 18, 2006, 4:35 pm

    I completely agree with Drew’s comments and David’s also…I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on “preaching the word in season and out of season” through other mediums than expository speaking (i.e. music, visual arts, drama, etc.). It seems that in an increasingly more visual culture, the spoken word (or text) will not neccessarily be the only way to proclaim the gospel but one of many.

  • Michael Foster

    September 18, 2006, 5:40 pm

    Stott does a good job in the first couple of chapters of Between Two Worlds in “defending” preaching. What else could I add after Fairchild’s epistle?

  • David Allis

    September 27, 2006, 3:52 pm

    As author of the original article mentioned on “The Problem of Preaching” (the full article can be found at, I guess I should respond. It doesn’t seem like David Fairchild has read the original article (forgive me if I’m wrong). The article wasn’t suggesting that we shouldn’t proclaim the gospel in appropriate ways, & I am convinced that the ‘good news’ needs to be demonstrated in our lives & communities, & articulated through written & spoken mediums.
    However, what we call ‘preaching’ in typical church meetings bears little or no resemblance to the NT models. In the NT, preaching is always in the context of the gospel & evangelism – never in the context of a weekly meeting where a sermon is preached to a congregation who are primarily christians, many of whom have been hearing weekly sermons for the past 20 years, & are expected to keep hearing them for the rest of their lives.
    If anything, there is an argument that what typically occurs in church meetings is ‘teaching’ not the NT ‘preaching’. If that is the case, I would argue that 1. we should change our vocabulary – call it teaching & eliminate the implicit ‘we preach because it is biblical’ assumption/confusion, & 2. Evaluate the effectiveness of these monologues as an appropriate form of teaching …

    I told my children that I had invented a new school – at this school there is only one class & it has hundreds of students ranging from preschoolers to 18 years old. The classes are short (only ¬? hr) & we have a quality teacher give an amazing lecture (monologue ‚Äì no questions, discussion or feedback) to the class. The only problem is that students never graduate from the class ‚Äì the 18 year olds that have been hearing these lectures for 13 years still need to keep hearing them for the rest of their lives ‚Äì the only way to graduate is to die. My kids say this school is stupid & will never work. I think they‚Äôre right‚Ķ‚Ķ but it‚Äôs what we do in churches ‚Ķ..

    To quote John Stott “The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions, but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh Biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform”

    I believe that we need to thoroughly examine all the practices we ‘assume’ in our current ways of ‘doing’ or ‘being’ the church. Without a willingness to ask questions & re-examine things, we get stuck in many of the problems of tradition – thank God for Luther & others who have challenged the assumptions. Also, I think we forget that much of what we consider is ‘normal’ in church & christian life is really quite new (developed over the past couple of hundred years), including things like ‘a personal faith in Christ’. & some of the things we consider historical actually aren’t as solidly historical as we are led to believe eg there are strong arguments that preaching wasn’t a significant part of the church for the first couple of hundred years after Christ …

    Thanks for thinking through these issues, as we wrestle to understand how to extend God’s kingdom – bless you