Parrying Common Preaching Objections

January 8, 2008

Its so in vogue these days to take pot shots at preaching. Before the turn of the year, the Think Christian blog ‘highlighted’ an article which does just that .

(Photo by Jordan, Creative Commons License)

Part of that article made the following statement: “Preaching as it is practised in modern churches is extra-biblical, a poor form of communication, and creates dependency.” Really? Here’s how I would respond – though you may have more to add:

First, preaching as is practiced in modern churches (if by that the author means a herald who proclaims and explains God’s Word) is not extra biblical. Such a suggestion is unfounded and easily refuted by just a cursory reading of Scripture. Moses restates, explains and applies God’s law in Deuteronomy. Ezra gives ‘the sense’ of God’s precepts when the temple is rebuilt. Jesus expounds God’s law and applies it more fully in the Sermon on the Mount. Paul’s life and teaching are replete with Old Testament exposition (even Acts 17 can be shown, in its ‘content’, to be founded on several key OT passages). Last but not least, the author of Hebrews performs detailed exposition from the Law, prophets and psalms. See some very basic support for all this here.

Second, even if preaching were a poor form of communication, this would be primarily a cultural, pragmatic and experiencial argument – not a biblical one. Having questioned the supposedly ‘monologue’ sermon myself in past years, looking back I can see that the underlying issue was that I didn’t want to sit ‘under’ God’s Word. Such would involve one’s mouth being shut, ears being open, and heart being ready to embrace whatever challenge or correction God would bring. Furthermore, I’m not sure that even the pragmatic argument works. On the one hand, I could point to secular audiences (congregations!) who listen to stand up comedians for an hour straight – and twenty somethings at the likes of Mars Hill, Seattle and Redeemer, New York who sit with rapt attention for long periods (at Mars hill, for an hour and a half). On the other hand, it can as easily be argued – ‘experiencially’ – that dialogue can be less than helpful. My common ‘experience’ of discussion without a firm lead has been pooled ignorance, not a growing understanding of God. That said, discussion and questions as a ‘response’ to God’s Word is imperative, not least if we are going to listen to the bible AND ‘do what it says.’

Third, preaching need not necessarily create dependence. Certainly it can do, especially if preacher’s only show the fruits of their study and never how they worked to get there. Also there is a kind of preacher who tries to assert that they have some special interpretive ability that no other in the congregation posesses. In such a situation congregants become like parrot’s: ‘pastor______ says…’ Nevertheless, in churches where clear exposition occurs, the opposite is often the case. Precisely BECAUSE good interpretation is modelled, church members become more able to handle the bible themselves. Almost without fail, Christians who transfer to our chrch from other good bible expositing churches are the most capable in handling their bibles.


  1. Yowza! I just read the original post and about thirty comments and my head is still swirling from the discussion! There were 2 or 3 admirable defenses of preaching and yours was one of them. I couldn’t agree with you more. There are too many OT and NT references to preaching to discount. My opinion of discussions such as this is that it is started from someone’s spiritual immaturity, not from a serious study of the scripture.

  2. Nice rebuttal thanks for the link.

  3. Hi
    You might be interested in a followup repsonse I wrote, which was published in the NZ Baptist magazine. (My original article on “The Probelm with preaching was published, then the following month 3 Bible College lecturers wrote responses disagreeing with my article, then I wrote this response (limited by space)
    David Allis, NZ

    “I’m impressed by the way NZ Baptists welcome healthy discussion and debate, in order to become more effective in today’s world. My article ‘The Problem with Preaching’ prompted strong response and much discussion. Raising challenging questions about preaching is rather like waving a red rag to a sacred cow. The responses in last month’s Baptist from Ian Kemp, David Richmond & Paul Windsor were gracious and thoughtful, yet somewhat unconvincing.

    In response, I need to clarify some aspects of my original article. In critiquing preaching, I focussed on the specific form of preaching commonly used in modern western churches – monologue preaching to a church congregation. Some people seem to raise this form of preaching onto a ‘pedestal’ above other forms of communication, seeing it as Biblical, essential and prescriptive for us today and presumably for all churches of all times. This perspective effectively raises this form of preaching to a level near baptism and prayer. It is regarded as a spiritual mystery beyond question.

    This view seems evident in last month’s responses through phrases like “the sermon … is the voice of God to be obeyed”, “the high calling of the preacher”, “the divine encounter in the preaching” and “preaching is a spiritual gift and a God-given vocation”.

    I find no convincing evidence of this form of monologue preaching to a church congregation visible in the NT – hence my statement that this form of preaching is extra-biblical (I didn’t say or imply that it is un-biblical or necessarily wrong). Even if examples of this form of preaching are perceived in the NT (eg 2 Tim 4), these examples don’t make preaching prescriptive or essential for all churches at all times.

    In my original article, I attempted to differentiate the form of preaching we practice in churches today from what is seen in the NT. The key point is that there is no essential identifiable difference between the wide variety of communication forms seen in the NT, including preaching and teaching. As Paul Windsor points out with his reference to 34 different words and overlapping circles, the concepts overlap.

    Unfortunately many people see the ‘preach’ words, which appear about 140 times in an English NT, and assume that this ‘preaching’ they read of is the same form as the preaching they hear in church today, and hence that the form of preaching that occurs in their church has a strong (essential) biblical basis and we have to keep doing it. They see preaching as a specific God-given form of communication, and its effectiveness shouldn’t be questioned.

    As Christians, including those exercising leadership, we need to communicate the messages of Jesus and His kingdom to all people, including those outside or on the edge of the kingdom, and those within. A wide variety of forms of communication are available. Some of these forms are clearly visible in the NT, others might be implied, and others are definitely not seen in the Bible (eg emails, Denominational newspapers). These communication forms are not distinct, but rather they overlap. They include teaching (to large groups, small groups and individuals), dialogue, discussion, debate, evangelistic preaching, preaching to church congregations, and questions and answers. None of these forms is inherently on a pedestal above the others. None of these forms is ‘biblical & normative & inherently spiritual’ – ie ‘it is in the Bible and we have to do it and it is a communication form that is inherently more spiritual than other forms’. All of these communication forms can be either effective or ineffective, depending partly on how they are implemented and whether the form & content are relevant for the recipients. Sometimes these forms of communication impart some sort of spiritual life, renewal, revelation, insight, inspiration or encounter – but this is not automatically inherent in any of the forms. This spiritual impartation is more likely to occur when other factors are involved, including prayer, study, good presentation, accurate Biblical interpretation, and people having expectations. On occasions, the form chosen is inappropriate or the communication is poor, yet God chooses to ‘move’ anyway.

    Communication is essential. I am not calling for preaching to be abandoned. Nor am I saying that any other form of communication is always better than a sermon. A monologue sermon to the congregation on Sundays is one form of communication. It should be more accurately described as ‘teaching’, ‘inspiration’, ‘thought-for-the-day’, ‘reflection’, or ‘motivational talk’, depending on its intention and characteristics. Monologue preaching might even be the best communication form in a particular situation – preaching has historically been very effective in many situations. However, we have a wide range of equally valid forms of communication available. If we understand their strengths and weaknesses, become proficient in their use, and evaluate their effectiveness, we will become better communicators.

    Throughout much of church history, monologue sermons have been a predominant form of communication. There are many historical and sociological reasons for this reliance on sermons. There are also many spiritual, pragmatic and educational reasons for questioning the effectiveness of monologue preaching in our society. These include that it is often ineffective, expensive, can limit learning, discussion and debate, foster biblical illiteracy, and disempower people. Monologues silence the voice of the people. Educational studies repeatedly demonstrate that people learn more through interactive teaching and self-learning. Rather than just trying to pass on information, we should be creating life-long spiritual learners.

    David Richmond suggests that if people can’t feed themselves, we need to keep feeding them. In contrast, I’m convinced that for normal healthy people, we should stop spoon feeding them, let them get hungry and then they will become motivated to learn to feed themselves. They might even learn to how to cook, plan their own menu, and begin teaching others to feed themselves.

    Its no surprise to hear ministers defending preaching. Professional ministers usually love preaching and are paid to do it. Preaching is typically part of the ‘package’ of this form of church leadership. A minister questioning preaching and other aspects of professional ministry is like the proverbial person who saws off the branch they are sitting on. It is as rare as beef farmers promoting vegetarianism.

    I told my children that I’ve invented a new school – it has only one class with hundreds of students aged from 5 to 18. They meet for one half-hour class each week, where a quality teacher gives an amazing non-interactive lecture to the class. Students never graduate from the class. The 18 year-olds, who have been hearing these lectures for 13 years, stay in this class with more new entrants for the rest of their lives. The only way to graduate is to become the lecturer or die. My children say this school is stupid and will never work. I agree … but it’s what we do in churches … let’s look for good alternatives.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: