Here is a portion of my presentation at the Church Revitalization Conference on Sunday, June 9, prior to the Southern Baptist Convention sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The nature of the church requires that preaching be paramount in the fulfillment of her mission. The Great Commission as recorded in Mark 16:15 indicates how Jesus viewed preaching as the necessary means for the church to fulfill the Great Commission.
The church was birthed in preaching according to Acts 2. In Acts 6:4, Luke records the Apostles placed a high priority on prayer and preaching as their primary focus: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Paul says in Romans 10 that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Evangelistic preaching grows the church. Biblical preaching edifies the church. The book of Acts clearly shows this. In his swan song, Paul tells young Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).
You cannot have a church without preaching. You cannot have church growth without preaching. You cannot have church revitalization without preaching. Preaching is fundamental to New Testament ecclesiology.
Preaching must be foundational in the mission of the church for theological and pastoral reasons. The church cannot be the church unless she is the preaching church.
Preaching was viewed as the primary method of pastoral care in the history of the church. The classical definitions of pastoral care throughout church history speak of preaching as the primary method of doing pastoral care. For example, Luther said: “If any man would preach let him suppress his own words. Let him make them count in family matters and secular affairs but here in the church he should speak nothing except the Word of the rich Head of the household otherwise it is not the true church. Therefore this must be the rule God is speaking that is why a preacher by virtue of this commission and office is administering the household of God and dare say nothing but what God says and commands. And although much talking is done which is outside the Word of God, yet the church is not established by such talk though men were to turn mad in their insistence upon it.”
The church today is anemic spiritually for many reasons, but one of the major reasons has to be the loss of biblical content in so much of contemporary preaching. Pop psychology substitutes for the Word of God. Feel-good messages on “Five Ways to Be Happy” have become the steady cotton candy diet fed to the average church. No wonder so many spiritual teeth are decaying in our churches. Preaching within the church both equips and challenges the church to fulfill the Great Commission.
Preaching and the Church Growth Movement.
It is interesting that the Church Growth movement began in the same year as the New Homiletic in preaching—1971. The influence of this movement on America’s evangelical churches has been phenomenal. Myriads of books have been written on the subject of how to grow a church. Many of these books and the principles behind them are less theological and highly pragmatic in nature.
The Church Growth movement has been a mixed bag. One of the downsides to it has been the general lack of focus on preaching. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Church Growth movement has actually hindered expository preaching in the United States because it has, inadvertently, de-emphasized the importance of preaching in the local church.
One of the most surprising things about the books produced by this movement in the first 25 years of its existence is the lack of emphasis placed on the role of preaching in church growth. Many do not even mention preaching.
David Eby wrote a book in 1996 entitled Power Preaching for Church Growth: The Role of Preaching in Growing Churches. As far as I know, this was the first book to treat the subject in book-length format and Eby is not even in the Church Growth movement. His two chapters critiquing the Church Growth movement are must reads. Eby read every book in the church growth movement and charted where they talk about preaching. In the early years of the movement, only one of the first sixteen books even listed Biblical preaching as an aspect of church growth. Eby then ransacked the next forty-eight books that came out on church growth. In ten thousand pages of material, less than fifty even mentioned preaching as important in church growth. He then examined all of the DMin dissertations at Fuller Library and found that of the three hundred and seventy seven dissertations completed since 1971 (through 1996), only one was written on preaching and church growth. The Church Growth movement has emphasized marketing and de-emphasized preaching.
Evangelicals are outdoing everyone else as the supreme compromisers in church work today. What difference is there today between a popular market driven philosophy of church growth and classical liberalism? Both have resulted in a compromised culture. Classical liberalism capitulated to culture and much of evangelicalism today in my judgment is compromising with culture. An undefined theology combined with a seeker sensitive philosophy undermines the ability of the church to speak prophetically to culture. The moment a church compromises with culture in ways contrary to Scripture, at that moment she forfeits her prophetic position in the culture. On the other hand, the moment a church defies the spirit of the age she forfeits her marketing appeal. The preaching of the Gospel will always defy the spirit of the age.
Are you planting a church? Are you growing a church? Are you revitalizing a church? Preaching must be your top priority.