I recently had a conversation with an awesome, God-loving, Christian man in which he expressed something that seemingly is thought and felt by more and more Christians everyday. In the middle of an hour long conversation on church, he said, and I paraphrase, “You can find a million good sermons online. So, when a church gathers, preaching isn’t that important of an activity. Instead, we ought to be focused on prayer and worship.”
Due to their clear focus on Scriptural evidence, most of the blog posts I read on the topic of church are written by people who are part of a house church and advocate this model. One thing that seems to be firm and consistent in the writings of these bloggers is that sermons are not very valuable. Unlike the man above, the emphasis of these people isn’t on the tools available online, but instead on the importance of dialogue. A recent post in one of the blogs I read consistently, Church in a Circle, was called “10 reasons to stop sermons and use other learning tools.” While the author does say, “I’m not saying we have to do away with sermons altogether,” the rest of her words seem to suggest otherwise. She says, “A few years ago, we came across a learning tool which (in our opinion) does away with the need for sermons” (italics mine). She also says, “Here are 10 reasons we believe churches should stop using sermons…” (italics mind).1
A commenter on a blog post said the following: “I’ve got an idea: read my lips–NO MORE SERMONS! just stop preaching. We laypeople are now literate. We can read books on our own or take classes. We don’t need clergy teaching or preaching at us. The very idea of a sermon is offensive: a lecture where we can’t argue back or even ask questions. And so is the very idea of clergy as authorities or intellectual leaders–when in many congregations most laypeople are as educated or better educated. So shut up already. NO MORE SERMONS. Give us liturgy, sacraments and mystery, and stop the talk. You have nothing to say us.”2[bra_blockquote align=”]Would we be better suited to remove the sermon from our weekly gatherings, instead pointing our people to some online depository of sermons? Is it true that Creekside Bible Church “should stop using sermons.” Should I “shut up already” and make “no more sermons?”[/bra_blockquote]I took two semester long classes learning how to preach a sermon. I preach approximately 50 sermons a year. A quarter of my weekly work goes into sermon making. Almost half of our church’s weekly gathering is a sermon. Is this all wrong? Would we be better suited to remove the sermon from our weekly gatherings, instead pointing our people to some online depository of sermons? Is it true that Creekside Bible Church “should stop using sermons.” Should I “shut up already” and make “no more sermons?” To be honest, this would make my life easier and less stressful. But despite this, I think the answer to these questions is unequivocally “No!” In the rest of this post I will offer three proofs in defense of the sermon. These proofs also make it imperative that churches continue regular sermon giving in their gatherings.
When examining the goodness of something, it is always best to start with the Bible. In doing this on the topic of regular sermons, we could start in the Old Testament. One of the clearest examples of a modern sermon found in the Bible comes from the book of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 8:8, we read of the Levites, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.”3 Or, we could begin an examination of the merits of preaching regular sermons with narrative of Jesus’s life. The Gospels tell of Jesus preaching time and time again. In fact, much of what we know about Jesus thoughts on a variety of issues come from a single sermon – The Sermon on the Mount. However, since this discussion is focused primarily on its practice in the church, it seems better here to turn our attention to the moment that church began. On that day, the disciples were gathered in a house when suddenly they were filled with the Holy Spirit. A large crowd gathered near the disciples to find out about the commotion. In Acts 2:14 we read, “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd…” He goes on to deliver a sermon that God uses to lead 3,000 people to come to Christianity and the first church is formed. Of course this isn’t evidence that consistent sermon making is important, but we must note that the Holy Spirit didn’t lead Peter into a dialogue with the crowd; the Holy Spirit lead Peter to preach a sermon. Sermons continued to be a major part of church gatherings. We read in Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (At this point some may point to a difference between preaching and teaching. I concur that these two activities are different in nature. However, the context of this passage is Peter’s sermon mentioned above. Thus, it seems that what is referred to as “apostle’s teaching” in verse 42 must be similar to Peter’s address to the crowd in the previous 28 verses.
Throughout the book of Acts we find sermons delivered in which the deliverer explains who Jesus was, why Jesus died, and that people ought to repent and give their lives to him. It seems that through these sermons the Holy Spirit most often leads people to faith in Jesus. The Apostle Paul, of whom’s ministry a high percentage of the book of Acts focuses on, went from town to town preaching the good news of Jesus. Statements about his preaching are so common in the book that they are beyond referencing here. It suffices to offer two verses on preaching from the book of Acts.. While Paul was with other Christians for a worship gathering, we read in Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.” This verse offers evidence that preaching was a part of the early church gatherings and that the sermon contained more than just the Gospel message. Further strengthening the idea that sermons didn’t just contain the Gospel is Acts 20:20, which says, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.” Examining the narrative of the early church obviously points to the importance of the sermon.
While the value of the sermon is seen in the book of Acts, the greater evidence for its place in church is seen in passages of Scripture where it is commanded. In the book of 1 Timothy, a letter written to a pastor on how a church should operate, we read, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”4 This is strengthened in Paul’s second letter to Timothy where he says, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”5 These statements don’t seem to be negotiable. Paul is telling this pastor that he should preach.[bra_blockquote align=’right’]…to throw out both the example of the early church and the direct biblical commands to a pastor of a church when it comes to regular preaching is to discredit the importance of the Bible.[/bra_blockquote]Whether someone thinks sermons to be effective in our modern culture is not the primary issue, but one I will cover in my next post as I examine the historical importance of sermons and the anecdotal evidence for their importance (I’ve run out of room here). For now, it is important to state clearly that to throw out both the example of the early church and the direct biblical commands to a pastor of a church when it comes to regular preaching is to discredit the importance of the Bible. If we take Christian Scripture seriously than we need to take the practice of regular sermons seriously. [bra_border_divider top=’20’ bottom=’20’]
3. All Scripture is NIV.