Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thinking About Churches V: Preaching

This is the last post in a mini-series on anecdotal observations of churches. I don’t get out much, I’m in Edson most Sundays, but over the years I’ve visited several different churches in Canada and the U.S. on holiday. I’ve also had conversations with friends and family about their church experiences. In the churches I’m familiar with, preaching still takes place. That alone should be encouraging, but what is that preaching like?

As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’m disappointed in the general attitude of the service and in the music, but what makes me really sad (and sometimes mad) is the preaching. In each post I’ve said that there are notable exceptions, and I’m thankful for churches that value biblical, expositional preaching, but there is indeed a famine for hearing the Word of the Lord in the land.
The central problem, I've decided, is a rush to application. We don't hear what God is saying, we hear some “relevant” application about how this passage is really about us. Even if Jesus is mentioned, the main point is how we need to clean up our act or try harder at being good Christians. Call it "Law Lite," if you will, but the gospel is missing regardless. Sometimes, there is not even a discernable passage, just a verse or two projected on the screen behind the speaker. The sermon is usually very short, but the personal illustrations are long (some call this authenticity).

Is any of this new? No, not at all. Most of this probably describes the churches I grew up in for the most part (minus the PowerPoint), though I didn't know any different then.

The reason that I'm sad about this is that God presents us a feast and we go out of our way to serve junk food. A lot of people think that the worship stops when the music stops, but can we blame them if the message has nothing of God’s voice to recommend it as worship? If people think that preaching is a bore, they probably think that the problem is with them. I wish I could communicate to them that the problem is with the lack of biblical, gospel content in their services. God is not boring. Our sin and God's solution is not boring.

I asked earlier if this problem was new. Consider this wisdom from 2600 years ago:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. -- Jeremiah 2:12-13

Again, let me stress that there are exceptions. Some churches really celebrate God and the Gospel in biblically faithful ways, but the longer I live, the more I realize how rare churches like this really are. If you attend one, be thankful. If you don't, then make some noise!

So what do I mean specifically about his poor preaching? Let me point you to another source. As I began this post, I thought about an article that I read in Modern Reformation magazine several years ago (I just checked the date – 13 years ago!) and it is still available online. It pinpoints some common preaching problems.

If you are in a church with weak preaching, work on some constructive ways to alert your pastor to the wealth of preaching resources and examples that are available.


Jim said...

I think that the current emphasis on "relevancy" and "authenticity" is (in part) a reaction to the content filled, information overload preaching that many of us experienced in the 60s and 70s. Sermons that fill up 45 minutes with biblical history and theology (but no application) are not necessarily any "better" than sermons which spiritualize, moralise or psychologize with little attention paid to the redemptive-historical context.

Anonymous said...

I just want you to know that we are still praying for your family, especially this month. We share so much in theology and doctrine. You are kindred spirits. But, we think of you now more than ever when the season is changing. We have had loss in our own life. We stand with you in prayer during this season. We love you though we have never met you.
Anna Thorburn
Claremont, NH USA
Our kids were with Emily on TPS

Anonymous said...

Hi Terry,

I don't know if you remember me. I was a teacher for two months (May-June) at the Edson Koinonia Christian Church in 2000. We used to have lengthy discussions into the night about Calvinism. I'm sorry to hear about your loss, and I recently heard your interview on Wretched Radio. I have often wondered myself if I could stick to the doctrines of grace if one of my boys would be taken from me in such a violent fashion. After listening to your interview, I know I can. Many years ago, you and your church planted a seed in me, and I am happy to report that the seed has sprouted and in God's grace I will continue to grow in him.

Chris Cousine
Calgary Fire Department Chaplain.

stauf46 said...

Thank you Anna for your comment and your prayers.

Chris, I sure do remember you! What an encouragement! God bless you as you do continue to grow in Christ's grace!