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I Still Believe in Preaching

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Just 12 months ago, I left my administrative office in Colorado Springs to return to the pulpit of a local church. I admit it. I was nervous. The questions were daunting. After more than 15 years away, first as a district superintendent and then as vice president for C&MA Church Ministries, did I still “have what it takes” to pastor a healthy, growing church? Could I still write a new sermon every week? (You don’t have to do that in an administrative job!) How would the needs of a 21st century church be different from the ones I knew in the last century? In a world dominated by YouTube and Facebook, is it still reasonable to expect that anyone under the age of 60 will listen to an ordinary preacher with a simple message to proclaim?

The very first question from someone in my new congregation seemed to underscore the “angst” I was experiencing. “Do you still want that big old pulpit?” a worship leader asked. The option was a music stand, which was judged to be more “flexible” and less intimidating to the listening audience.

I have sometimes wondered why God, in all His omniscient, omnipotent excellence, should choose to work through the exercise of preaching and the obvious frailties of human messengers. But Scripture teaches and history confirms this to be His chosen medium. He has ordained that His words should be channeled from His heart to the hearts of people through the conduit of preachers and their message.

I would have chosen skywriting as a medium. That would be impressive. Or perhaps wall writing—as in the story of Belshazzar’s feast. And, instead of using mere mortals, angels would be my preferred messengers. They would definitely command more respect from the average American congregation. Or what about simultaneous night visions for an entire congregation? That would work.

But God has chosen the medium of the spoken Word (after all, that is the way He created the universe), and human beings, with all of their foibles and frailties, are His chosen messengers—preachers and preaching!

As early as the fourth chapter of Genesis, preaching shows up in the oracles of Enoch, and by the time of Noah in Genesis 6, it has been definitely established as God’s chosen method of communication, His number one delivery system. Find a man, give him a message and tell him to preach it! Though the early returns in Genesis aren’t all that dramatic, God seems very set upon the method, and so it continues through the Old Testament and the whole history of redemption. Moses, despite his apparent aversion to public speaking, turns out to be a pretty useful preacher; the Book of Deuteronomy is the longest sermon in the Bible! Joshua continues the tradition (“As for me and my house . . .”). You can trace the craft of sermonizing all through the judges and prophets, right to the end of the Old Testament.

The New Testament begins with John baptizing and preaching and then it says that Jesus went into Galilee “preaching the good news of God.” As soon as they had been trained, Jesus sent the disciples out to preach. After the day of Pentecost (on which yet another powerful sermon was delivered), when the work of caring for all of the new converts threatened to distract the apostles from the most important priorities, they deputized others to do the pastoral care so that they could focus on prayer and “the ministry of the Word.”

Paul believed in “the foolishness of preaching.” He saw it as essential to his purpose of planting the Church throughout the Roman Empire. He sums up his view most eloquently in the Book of Romans: “‘Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Rom. 10:13–15).

I still believe in preaching! And by the way, I kept the big old pulpit. All by itself, it sends a powerful message.

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