“I really like the music;” “the community is wonderful;” “there are so many ways to get involved;” “their children’s ministry is great;” “God really seems to be moving here.” These are among the most common reasons that I hear when people explain why they have joined a particular church. In fact, I have rarely heard people say, “We joined our church because it had the most faithful preaching of God’s word that we could find.” By way of contrast, I have heard people say, “The preaching isn’t the best at our church but we get fed in our small group. That’s really more of our church.” In no rational world would someone ever dream of saying that the integrity, knowledge or competency of a doctor, teacher, lawyer, mechanic, plumber, engineer, banker, athlete or chef doesn’t really matter. However, that statement is functionally made about preachers every time someone opts to join a church that is not committed to theologically sound, exegetical, expositional, Christ-centered, experiential preaching. So, why do multitudes of men and women settle when it comes to the ministry of God’s word? This question obviously has more than one answer; however, consider the following:
In his essay, “From the Scriptures to the Sermon,” J.I. Packer explained the widespread reception of theologically and biblically shallow preaching when he wrote:
“Low expectations become self-fulfilling. Where little is expected from sermons, little is received. Many moderns have never been taught to expect sermons to matter much, and so their habit at sermon time is to relax, settle back and wait to see if anything the preacher says will catch their interest…It is now assumed that those who sit under the preaching are observers, measuring the preacher’s performance, rather than participants waiting for the Word of God. Many in our congregations do not know that there is any other way of listening to sermons than this way of detached passivity, and no-one should be surprised to find that those who cultivate such passivity often dismiss preaching as an uneventful bore. Those who seek little find little.”1
Packer’s analysis captures the essence of the biblical shallowness that has so permeated the Christian church in North America (and, throughout the world–for that matter) for well over a century. In turn, faithful ministers of God’s word are often discouraged as they find themselves pushing against the grain of bad models of preaching. Packer explains:
“Lack of good models tends always to lower standards, and unfortunately good models have been in short supply throughout this century. Far too many pulpit discourses have been put together on wrong principles. Some have failed to open up Scripture; some have expounded biblical doctrine without applying it, thus qualifying as lectures rather than preachments…some have been no more than addresses focusing the present self-awareness of the listeners, but not at any stage confronting them with the Word of God; some have been mere statements of the preacher’s opinion, based merely on his own expertise, rather than messages from God carrying divine authority. Such discourses are less than preaching…but because they were announced as sermons they are treated as preaching and people’s idea of preaching gets formed in terms of them, so that the true conception of preaching is forgotten…But preaching is more than teaching – not less, but more! Preaching is essentially teaching plus application (invitation, direction, summons), and where that plus is lacking something less than preaching takes place…Many in our churches have never experienced preaching of the historic evangelical sort at all.”2
What the church needs more than anything at present is for men who have been called by God to give themselves fully to becoming the most faithful preachers of His word that they can possibly become. Of course, they must do this for His glory and the salvation of His people–not for self-aggrandizement, promotion or church growth. While there will always be those with “itching ears,” who heap up for themselves teachers, if more ministers wholeheartedly committed themselves to this all-important work, the church would have more good examples to follow and the expectation of numbers of God’s people would necessarily rise.
1. Packer, J. I. (1999). Preaching the Living Word (pp. 32–33). Geanies House, Scotland: Christian Focus.
2. Ibid., p. 32