There is a cartoon which pictures two older men leaving a church service. One says to the other, “Things sure have changed in the church.” His friend replied, “What do you mean?” “Well, remember when we used to come to church and bring our Bibles? Now we have to bring our dictionary.”
In over 50 years of preaching and teaching homiletics and advanced preaching for 35 years, as well as having written several books on preaching, I conclude that today’s preaching has fallen on hard times. Sadly is has changed with the times; not just in the methodology of delivery but in content. Paul’s admonition to the Timothy to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2), is a neglected admonition in our day.
In the verse following the admonition to “preach the word”, Paul makes a prediction: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap to themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4). Paul’s prediction is still being fulfilled in our day.
I had an elder called me when I was training preachers. His congregation was looking for a new preacher. I will never forget his remarks. He said, “We are not looking for a Bible thumper but someone who can entertain and make the message relevant so people will listen.” I tried to encourage him to change his mind and seek a preacher who loved the church and preached the word in love. He wasn’t interested. I was thankful I didn’t have a preacher I could recommend who met his qualifications.
In Paul’s day preaching was viewed as foolishness: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For the Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greek’s foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:21-23). If preaching is foolishness, then those of us who preach are “fools” or foolish.
There is a fictional story about a visitor coming from Mars to attend and evaluate his experience in a Sunday morning church service. The visitor concluded that the one hour service was dominated by the sermon—30 minutes. The Lord’s Supper—15 minutes. The singing and praying—7 to 10 minutes. The rest of the hour was given to announcements and remarks at the conclusion of the assembly. He also observed that since the preaching was the dominate use of time, why was it done so poorly.
The level of preaching in a congregation is where it is because of the preacher. It will never rise any higher until the preacher raises it. He is responsible for the content, clarity, enthusiasm, timing, and suggestions for application. The pew reflects the man in the pulpit. I once heard, “There are cold members in the pew because there is an ice cube in the pulpit”.
Whatever happened to biblical preaching? The decline and devaluation of preaching has been around since the early preachers, such as Noah, were ignored and rejected. In more modern times, back in 1970 when I taught my first undergraduate course in Homiletics, one of the text books I used contained these six charges against preaching:
“Charge # 1—Preachers tend to use complex, archaic language which the average person does not understand.
“Charge # 2—Most sermons today are boring, dull, and uninteresting.
“Charge # 3—Most preaching today is irrelevant.
“Charge # 4—Preaching today is not courageous preaching.
“Charge # 5—Preaching does not communicate.
“Charge # 6—Preaching doesn’t lead to change in persons” (The Empty Pulpit, Clyde Reid, pp.25-31, 1968, Harper & Row, Publishers, N.Y.).
If these six charges by Reid were true back in the late 1960s, how much more are they true today as the media, modernism and liberal influences have changed the direction of the Sunday morning sermon, as well as others?
Moving to the 1980s, Michael Green wrote this in the Editor’s Preface of John Stott’s book, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century: “The standard of preaching in the modern world is deplorable. There are few great preachers. Many clergy do not seem to believe in it any more as a powerful way in which to proclaim the gospel and change the life. This is the age of the sermonette: and sermonettes make Christianettes” (p. 7, 1982, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich.).
More recently in January 31, 2013, writing in The Aquila Report, Marty Schoenleber, Jr., addressed our subject in an interesting article titled, “21st Century Preaching: Cowards Need Not Apply: “I have met too many of what I call ‘survivors’—pastors who survive in small and large places by only telling pleasantries, jokes, and sentimental soppy stories (the preaching equivalent of kitty cat pictures and movie shorts on wimp.com). These men seem to have read or imbibed from the culture around the philosophy of dale Carnegie and his “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” They have reduced the whole of their job to trying to “Dale Carnegie the ministry.” They keep their mouths shut about the controversies around them; they never speak or preach about the difficult things in culture; they have made being pleasant and “harmless” at art form. They are coward.” (http://theaquilareport.com/ 21st-century-preaching-cowards-need-not-apply/).
Yes, there are preachers today who still preach the word and have fire in their bones like Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 20:8). Sadly, their numbers are shrinking. We need a return to the Pentecost model of preaching in the Book of Acts, chapter two. We note several things relative to Peter’s sermon. First, he had spent three-plus years training for this sermon. Second, he recognized the approval and need of the Holy Spirit. Third, he had a curious and ready audience. They were curious about the behavior of the 120, etc. Fourth, then Peter stood up so the hearers could see him. Fifth, he was supported by the eleven; it was a team effort. Sixth, he raised his voice to be heard by the crowd. Seventh, he specifically addressed the crowd: the Jews. Eight, he preached Christ as the fulfillment of prophecy. Ninth, he convicted the audience of sin. Tenth, his sermon pricked their hearts, causing some to ask the question, “Men and brethren what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Eleventh, Peter gave them the gospel answer (Acts 2:38). Twelfth, as a results of Peter’s sermon three-thousand were baptized (Acts 2:39-47).
Each one of these 12 points need to be develop as we plea for a return to biblical preaching. This quest should be on the top of every preacher’s list and on the list of every congregational leader. The world needs to see Jesus lifted up (cf. John 12:32) in biblical preaching done by preachers who have “fire in their bones.” The church needs to see preachers who will choose the lion’s den or jail cell rather than compromise their commission as “fools for God.” Take the clock off the wall and replace it with a banner reminding the preacher about his mission: PREACH THE WORD.