What Difference Does Preaching Make?

What is preaching? Is it just the bloviation of opinions by the weird? Is it simply the generally unhelpful ramblings of good people with enough guts to speak in public? Is preaching proclamation of God's Word through a human mouthpiece? Is preaching evangelism? Is it biblical instruction, wisdom for living, truth through personality, or a waste of time?

Here's a question that deserves some discussion: despite your answers to the questions above, what difference does preaching make? At the end of the day, does it matter a hill of beans? In most churches, preaching takes up a good 30-40% of time in a typical assembly. It is often placed liturgically as the climax of that service.

As for me, I do believe preaching can make an enormous difference in people's spiritual lives over time–but sometimes doesn't. I am not one of those preachers who believes the sermon should be the climax of every service. I believe that while some will put forward Communion, praise, prayer for the saints or even fellowship as the theological climax of the assembly, I'm not sure there is a "climax." I think God is His own climax, and each movement of liturgy has value inasmuch as it performs the task of drawing people closer to and lifting up God. This is to say whether we are talking about preaching, praise, Communion, or any other element…it has the potential be either a climax or a low point. This isn't determined by the entertainment value of the element, but by the spiritual precision, theological meaning and, yes, experiential impact of the element.

Since these posts are on the state of preaching, I'll simply say at this point that great preaching has always played an important role among God's people, and it should continue to. Nevertheless, I feel we are in a dark decade in terms of preaching. Here are a few reasons why:

  • There aren't haven't been any landmark books on preaching written recently, and there are no heir apparents to Tom Long, Fred Craddock, William Willimon, David Buttrick, and the "Greatest Generation" of preaching instructors.
  • Some preaching today is fundamentalist jibber jabber that has nothing to do with the text preached or life today. Other preaching is leftist jibber jabber masquerading as some sort of "reclamation." The amount of pure politics coming through from today's pulpits is striking to me. 
  • In many churches, sermons are strictly geared toward the practical, putting an intellectual glass ceiling on the hearers and exposing very little about the world of Scripture or the text preached–if the preacher is preaching from a text at all.
  • The desire among churches for a more image-based, interactive worship experience (which I generally favorable toward) has intentionally or unintentionally begun to downplay the role of preaching in the life of the church. I would prefer we took everything seriously, rather than downplaying anything.
  • Many of preaching's finer points: the turn of a phrase, rich use of language, organization of a sermon, depth of exhortation, use of humor, etc., are being used too much, or are neglected.

Add to this a couple of conversations I've had recently with Christians about preaching. One friend argued the church would be better off without preaching, replacing it with devotional thoughts shared by members of the congregation. Another made the argument that Communion should take 40 minutes and preaching should take 15.

In both cases, these Brothers are a part of churches with bad preaching situations. One is in a "mutual edification" situation where the pulpit is passed between members of the congregation week to week. He thinks devotional thoughts would be the way to go. The other is in a church where they do devotional thoughts…and he wants Communion to take over. Hmmm….

Is this where preaching is at? Maybe that's where it should be. I just don't think so. What do you think? Does it make a difference at all? Share freely, you won't hurt my feelings… unless you attend New Vintage 😉

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

4 thoughts on “What Difference Does Preaching Make?

  1. Gary, thanks for the link…very interesting stuff. I think preachers are way over on the pragmatic side these days…probably because they felt underprepared in that area in seminary…and because of cultural and ecclesiological shifts that caught them off-guard.
    This whole issue is one we should all have on our radars.

  2. Tim,
    Thanks for your post on preaching. Your questions are similar to ideas I have considered just recently. I recommend the work of Dr. Lori Carrell, a professor at UWOshkosh (Wisconsin) She has done extensive work in this area. I lament that your observation regarding the passing of a generation of great specialists, Craddock, Long, Willemon etc. seems to be accurate.
    It is my opinion that sermons/preaching still offers an experience and outcome which serves to offer unequalled opportunity for spiritual formation and forming of one’s worldview. The popularity of podcasts and regular subscribers to audio recordings of sermons seems to suggest that there are “listeners” who are hungry to hear the beautiful words of life spoken. I look forward to additional comments in this thread and the continued conversation as it develops.

  3. Tim,
    Good post. Your bullets are very good.
    I have thought about this one a lot. I still think that preaching matters. Ideally, this a moment where the community is hearing the word of God together. There may be different reasons for preaching a particular sermon. The desired response may be different. However, in the end, there is great value in this community encounter with God.
    I think that sometimes preachers can signal to the church that they really don’t value this moment very much. Maybe it is little preparation or little passion. Overall, I think the church picks up an attitude that says, “This really isn’t that important.” The church picks up on this and begins to believes this as well. (I don’t put all of this on the preacher. I’m just saying that a preacher’s own view of preaching can contribute to the problem as well.)
    Again, great post, Tim.