Rediscovering a passion for preaching
Over the Christmas period I listened to a fascinating interview with the radio presenter and broadcaster Jeremy Vine. In this interview Jeremy spoke of his Christian faith, something that more recently he has returned to. He reminisced over his church attendance as a young boy, where he recalled the many sermons where he was ‘dangled over the fires of hell’. He went on to make the point that he cannot recall when he last heard hell being mentioned on ‘Thought for the day’ and perhaps we need to rediscover the urgency of hell in our preaching today.
I was challenged by his observations in that to a point I would agree; we do need to rediscover a passion and energy for preaching the gospel. Martin Luther is reported to have said, “Preach as if Jesus was crucified yesterday, rose from the dead today, and is returning tomorrow.” I cannot agree more with Luther and wonder if perhaps today some of the problem lies in the confusion we have over preaching and teaching, in that many teach where they should preach, and vice versa.
In the New Testament, there are two different Greek words used for preaching and teaching, and I am not sure they are as interchangeable as perhaps we might at first think. Preaching is in effect proclaiming, heralding and announcing news to people – the gospel – especially (but not exclusively) to those who haven’t heard it before. Teaching is explaining things about the gospel that people don’t understand, instructing them on how to live in light of this good news. I believe we need both, however I wonder in our post-enlightenment age, we may have swung the pendulum too far in terms of teaching, and now need to re-emphasise the need for passionate preaching, where we make one point rather than many, and are clear that humanity’s only hope is in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.
In the New Testament, there are nearly thirty Greek words used to describe the ways God’s good news was explained and applied. Many of those ways involved interaction with the audience and a degree of energy and passion. Sadly, today the message too often is, “Sit down and be quiet—the preacher knows what is important for you to know about this text. You just listen.” We might think that we’re doing things this way because of our commitment to the ‘centrality of the Word’ but perhaps it is not the centrality of the Word that is emphasised, but rather the knowledge and power of the preacher over the passivity of the people.
As we embark on 2018, I would like to encourage every Christian leader who has responsibility for communicating on a Sunday, to rediscover the importance of preaching; to think, plan, pray about those who may turn up, who have never heard or understood the good news of the Gospel. Let’s begin by preaching so that people are led to make changes, and then as we begin to explain the implications of this good news, offer teaching as a way to help them embrace this new life.