The people of God gather around the Word of God. Preaching is the most important element of the corporate gathering of the people of God.
God spoke to Moses who recorded these revealed words with a purpose and a direction: “Assemble the people before to me, to hear my words, so that they may learn to revere me” (Dt. 4:10). To this we respond, “Let the assembled peoples gather round you, while you sit enthroned over them on high” (Ps. 7:7). This purpose and direction carries over into the New Testament to the people of God who when gathered are to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1Tim. 4:13).
It is God’s Word that births the people of God, and it is God’s Word that nourishes these people. The Word is central in the gathering and the living, the purpose and the direction. This is true as it is revealed in the Bible. It also reflects some of the important changes brought about during the Reformation in which the Bible was the authority, the sola Scriptura, not the Pope or the Church, and the preaching of the Word was the prominent focus whenever the people of God gathered. The Reformers and churches of the Reformation added to this importance by the way they built and where they placed the pulpit, which served the Word of God and gave prominence to this Word as preached.
This was not about the pastor as preacher. Rather it was about the Word of God as revealed/spoken, for the Bible not only consists of what God spoke in the past, it is the way God speaks today in the present tense. This is why the gathered church would often read Psalm 95, quoted by the preacher in Hebrews 3: “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Ps. 95:7b-11; Heb. 3:7-11, 15; cf. Ex. 17).
Though it is true that with the coming of Christ and the ushering in of the new covenant place and space have been transformed. And yet, we remain embodied in time and place so it means something. As you ponder this, what is the central focus of the church gathering where you meet? What role does the pulpit have? With or without it being the centerpiece of the “furniture,” does preaching remain preeminent. We will pick this up again at some future point.
With this foundation, we now build on yesterday’s post. We learned from Christopher Ash of the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening.” Today we hear again from Ash on “7 suggestions for encouraging good preaching.”
- Pray for the preachers. Pray specifically that they will work hard at the Bible passages (I Timothy 5:17) and preach them faithfully, passionately and in a way that engages with us.
- From time to time, tell the preachers you are praying for them and looking forward with expectancy to the sermon. That will be a great encouragement and incentive to them to prepare well.
- Be there. You may be surprised what an encouragement it is just to have you there, and what a discouragement to have you absent.
- Thank them afterwards for things you learned. Don’t flatter or just give them very vague comments about how good it was (if it was). Try to be specific and focus on the biblical content of the sermon rather than just stories, anecdotes or illustrations. Tell them if there was something in particular that you found helpful.
- Be prepared to be constructively and supportively critical. Ask the preachers to help you see where they got a particular point from the passage, or indeed the Bible. It will encourage them to stick to the Bible more next time. Be humble and respectful in the way you do this; remember, it is much harder to preach than it is to criticize preaching.
- Relate to your preachers as one human being to other human beings. Remember that the best sermon by a remote preaching hero, heard on an MP3 recording, is no substitute for the word of God preached by a human being face to face with other human beings in the context of trust and love.
- Be on the lookout for gifts of preaching and teaching in the church, and be ready to tap someone on the shoulder and suggest they develop these gifts and get further training. Mention these ideas to the pastoral leadership team in your church.
Tomorrow we will hear a word from Ash on how to hear “bad” sermons.