The more that I am in local church ministry the less I am drawn to talk about preaching because the more I am in local church ministry the more I understand the shelf life of a sermon. Despite what preachers want to admit, the shelf life of a sermon is like that of a cracked egg. It is good for breakfast, bad by lunch.
So why preach at all?
I would submit there is a role for preaching that is rooted in the ministry of Jesus – preaching gives language.
There is a reason when Jesus taught few understood what the heck he was saying; he was using a language that would be the mother tongue of the culture of God (which he called the Kingdom of God). He spoke in parables and cryptic sayings. He re-appropriated words like blessed and mustard seed. He was creating a lexicon that would be bedrock of this thing called the church. Notice that he gave Peter a new name, he called tax collectors disciples and he called sinners children of God. He was a walking translator.
This is the role of preaching – to translate this new language. With that in mind I would like to share what the role preaching is not.
The role of preaching is not to try to inspire people. That is the role of the Holy Spirit. What that means is that the preacher must trust that the Holy Spirit is working among the people and not try to manipulate a pre-determined outcome. The pre-determined outcome can often time narrow the range of imagination of those listening to do only that which the preacher hopes you will do. If preachers want people to trust in the power of God in their lives, then we must being by trusting the Holy Spirit to inspire.
The role of preaching is not a sales pitch. Preachers have a captive audience and have been trained to point out to that audience what they are missing or what is wrong with them. Then, after the problem is articulated, the preacher is then trained to pitch the product – Jesus. The commodification of Christ is what marketers do - preachers do not. Jesus is not a solution but a companion who sojourns with us. Or as the great preacher William Sloane Coffin said after the death of his son, God provides minimum protection but maximum support.
Finally, the role of preaching is not to give the answers. This may be obvious, however preachers are often tempted to give the congregation solutions to money problems or marriage situations or even how to vote. To put it most succinctly I give you Kallistos Ware who when talking about the faith said, “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much an object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”