Giving Up Preaching

Photo by  Nycholas Benaia  on  Unsplash

Photo by Nycholas Benaia on Unsplash

Preaching is sometimes discussed as though it were an dying art. There are fewer people going to church and even fewer who are interested to listen to a sermon. Attention spans are about 30 seconds long and if you cannot tweet it then it will not be heard - or so the basic argument goes.

As a result of this there is a growing emphasis on the art of preaching. This is not without merit. Anyone dedicated to a craft is naturally interested to learn more about that craft. However, preaching as an art is not on the ropes.

At the most basic, preaching is speaking. Perhaps we could narrow the definition to speaking on a religious matter. To that end, preaching is alive and well. Preachers are a dime a dozen these days. And it is difficult to pin down what makes a good preacher beyond personal tastes. Preaching is not what the Church lacks.

The Church lacks proclamation.

Proclamation is at the root of the ministry of Jesus. Consider how Jesus inaugurated his ministry by reading the following from Isaiah:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ 

Jesus did not come to preach. His was a ministry of proclamation. Even what we call the “Sermon on the Mount” is a title that later theologians called a section of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus did not preach sermons - he proclaimed Good News.

One of the ways to differentiate the the difference between preaching and proclaiming is the nature of the news. We preachers are very good at talking about “bad news”. We can describe the problems in our world, we can point out sin and speak of a broken world. This can be good preaching, but poor proclamation.

Proclamation describes “Good News”. You know when someone has moved from preaching to proclaiming when their words or actions highlight hope and mercy. We all have seen someone speaking or working and something happens, something comes over them and us that moves deep into our bones. It is that moment when you hear or see the very thing that confronts “bad news” rather than just describing it.

The best preachers I know are those who gave up preaching long ago in the pursuit to proclaim.