We know that our mission, and thus our ultimate goal, is what we refer to as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:8). We may even say that this is why we as Christians are here and the primary reason the church exists. Since my primary area of interest and expertise is homiletics, Preaching, I often ponder the role of preaching in this primary mission. Perhaps to validate my discipline, I am forced to grapple with the subject of how effective preaching is in accomplishing the Great Commission.
To approach it another way, if there is a more effective means to accomplish the end today, is it time to jettison the antiquated idea of proclamation? Has preaching passed its shelf-life or outlived its “sell by” date? Before you accuse me of creating a straw man, I have been asked this question and had this discussion — “if the goal is to make disciples, is preaching still needed and a valid method for accomplishing this end.”
My knee jerk response is always two-fold. First, Preaching is not a method for making disciples as much as it is a biblical command (2 Timothy 4: 2). And, whether we know, appreciate, or like it, man will always need more than simply group discussions and dialogues among equals for the salvation and edification of our souls. We need an authoritative monologue, the source of which is from the Greater. That is what preaching, proclamation, is — someone standing in the place of authority and saying “Thus saith the Lord!”
But perhaps I’m being unfair. My knee jerk doesn’t really answer the question that has been posed. So, allow me to try to take this up. Does preaching still have a role in the Mission of the Church? Today, can Preaching still be effective and valid in the disciple-making process? Here, I offer three quick thoughts on why I believe it does and can!
First, Your Preaching Will Not Be The End Of Discipleship In Your Church But It Will Probably Be The Beginning For Many People.
Often, the path that leads to the discipleship process in an individual’s life begins with corporate worship and thus a sermon or sermons. This is the case in regard to both a person’s initial public salvation expression or his or her decision to formally join a church and commit to following Jesus genuinely. Think about it, many new believers, new members, and less mature Christians attend corporate worship who are not attending small group Bible Study. Rarely is the reverse true.
This is not the desire nor ideal, and they do need the small group time for maturity. I am simply making the point that often your sermon will be the door of entry into the Christian life for a lot of people. And if it were not for the public proclamation ministry, perhaps many would never begin the process at all. Furthermore, if you are offering good biblical content in your messages on a weekly basis, this creates material for more individual study and opportunities for discipleship group discussions.
Second, Your Preaching Gives You The Opportunity To Communicate Biblical Content To The Congregation Collectively.
As I mentioned above, until we are in the presence of our Lord the church will always need an authoritative monologue, the source of which is from the Greater. That is what our preaching is. It is indeed someone standing in the place of authority and saying “Thus saith the Lord!” And even though it is in a borrowed authority, our proclamation ministry affords us the opportunity to practice this and gives the church what they must have for edification and this holistic spiritual formation like nothing else in the life of the church.
However, there is one significant caveat to this point. In order for your sermons to be effective in the disciple-making process, you must teach Biblical content. It must be the truth of Jesus and not the wisdom of man. We read in the Great Commission that one means by which we make disciples is “teaching them to observe all that I [Jesus] has commanded you . . .” (Matt 28:20). I believe the foundation of a good argument for systematic text-driven expository preaching lies in this statement. But, I digress.
Finally, It Is Impossible For Your Preaching To Fail To Impact The Discipleship Process In Your Church.
If the axiom that a pastor cannot not lead is true, and I believe that it is, then equally as accurate is the statement that a pastor cannot not affect discipleship in the church. The question is will it do so positively or negatively. You will lead your people from your pulpit. Will you do it unintentionally and poorly or effectively and in a way that results in the church taking up the tasks of Christ?
Likewise, your pulpit will not hold a neutral position in the disciple-making process. Again, will you use it with no aim and intentionality producing a meager impact at best? Or will you set goals and plan so that it positively affects the life of the church and is a resource for leading others to follow and obey Jesus? The blessing and truth is this — The pastor’s pulpit gives him the opportunity to lead by setting the spiritual temperature, missional direction, and commitment to Christlikeness in the body. My prayer is that you use your’s intentionally and to produce Christ followers and true disciples.
A helpful book was recently published on the integration of the different areas of ministry leadership into the discipleship process and disciple-making. The work, edited by Jody Dean and Hal Stewart, is titled Together We Equip. I contributed the chapter on the role of the pulpit. This week’s post is a summary or introduction to my contribution on the role of the pulpit in Holistic Spiritual Formation. Therefore if you enjoyed this article or found it helpful, you may want to check out my chapter and the entire book. Click here to order a copy.
Pass It On
As always, my prayer and aim for all I write here and in other places is that it helps pastors and those preparing to be pastors to be equipped to “Preach the Word” more confidently and effectively. If you know of someone else this article may help, please pass it on to them!