Tuesday, May 19, 2009

a direct church

In seminary I took quite a few homiletics classes that aimed to equip me with “preaching techniques.” And our class spent a lot of time in the world of rhetoric. If we could master the English language, we could masterfully convey the Gospel. In other words, preaching class was more about the “how” of preaching than the “what” of preaching.

Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot of good stuff. After all, you and I are flooded with "wall to wall noise" in a way that the ancient world was not. Today’s media saturated world has the attention span of a mosquito with ADHD. And so to preach is to compete – every time I step in the pulpit and speak about life in God’s kingdom I’m competing with Coca-cola and with your friends. And so I’ve learned to be funny; to make smooth transitions; to say “one thing and one thing” only. After all, I’m competing with beer commercials. In today’s church, the only thing worse than bad exegesis is a bad delivery (please note my sarcasm).

But here’s the problem: in crafting a sermon, I’m often far more concerned with how I preach than with what I preach. And so I’ll ask – “how can I make this relevant? What cultural connections can I make? What’s a funny story or clever anecdote to introduce this truth?”

The early church didn’t ask these questions. That’s what I mean when I say that Acts portrays a “direct” church. The preaching is straightforward proclamation. It is forthright, genuine, and to the point. Consider Acts 2:14-36. This is the first sermon in the history of Christianity. And we have the full text.

The setting is Pentecost. The preacher is Peter. And Peter’s sermon is a response to the crowd’s accusation that the apostles – on whom the Spirit has fallen – are drunk. And so Peter preaches. And imagine this, his whole sermon is only one minute and twenty-four seconds long (a dramatic reenactment just took place in my kitchen – a bible in one hand, a stop-watch in the other). And notice, Peter’s sermon doesn’t beat around the bush. Peter directly states that:

· We are in the last days (v.17)
· Jesus’ death happened “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (v.23)
· We crucified Jesus and are responsible for his death (v.23)
· David prophetically spoke of Jesus’ death and resurrection (v.25-29)
· God raised Jesus bodily from the dead (v.32)
· Jesus is exalted at the right hand of God (v.33)
· Jesus is Lord and Messiah (v.36)

May today’s preachers remain creative, but God save us from putting too much stock in our own rhetorical cleverness. Our God uses the weak to shame the strong. Moses had a stuttering problem; Paul lacked eloquence (1 Cor 2:4). The Gospel doesn’t depend on human cleverness but on the Word of God directly spoken and on sacrificial lives that back up our spoken proclamation.

May we never forget that each one of us is a preacher. We may not get the pulpit on Sunday morning, but God sends each of his children into the world as ambassadors with a message. May today's church have the courage to proclaim that message directly.

“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” – Rom 10:14


Anonymous said...

We have all drvien cars, some red, some blue. Max

KAM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KAM said...

Your post reminds me of the preacher I've often mentioned, who, upon finishing his sermons, nearly prompts me to stand and begin clapping, as if a stage actor has just completed a cathartic monologue.

By God's grace, I've been able to remember, at the last instant, that I was in church and not at the theater, and thus avoid having the other congregants think I was Charismatic -- or worse yet, genuinely moved by the Spirit.

But it gets me thinking about Spiritual Gifts, and the paucity of pastors, in my opinion, with the gift of preaching. Now before you tell me that preaching isn't listed as a gift in I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 or Romans 12, I'll tell you that I'm working from the assumption that "teaching" includes (or is) "preaching."

And no, I don't know New Testament Greek so I don't know if "teaching" has an "incredibly rich and nuanced etymology" or whether or not "preaching" and "teaching" are bound-up within "pastoring" which is literally "shepherding" and very intentionally points toward Abel and David before finding its fulfillment in Jesus and continuing to the universal church in His command of sheep-feeding to Peter. I have no idea.

But my experience tells me that good preaching is hard to find. Perhaps, because unlike the Apostles, we're no longer "direct" from the pulpit. Or because most pastors don't exposit Scripture any more. Or know the Biblical languages like they used to. Or because preaching well is very, very difficult to start with. Or because the internet has brought a certain someone from Minneapolis to the masses and forced unkind but inevitable comparisons.

My suspicion is that many preachers spend more time working on delivery, clever acronyms and humorous illustrations than working out doctrine.

When you're called up to the Majors, or get your own spin-off from The Christian View, I dare you to preach through a book of the Bible, one verse at a time, with earnest directness.

Except for James, since it shouldn't be in the canon.