I’ve set myself the not miniscule task this week of trying to work out whether or not sermons have any particular blessing attached to them. There is an Evangelical argument that says that preaching is the primary method of teaching that God has envisaged to grow his church, and by preaching the argument means “delivering a sermons”. Now, if that argument is sound, that God truly has instituted sermons as the main method of teaching, and if they are particularly blessed at turning the heart, then they’re a thing that needs to be done, and done well. If they’re not though, then if an other method of teaching the Bible (say small groups) might be more appropriate, that method should be used. The reason this is relevant for me, a youth worker, is not because I plan to evolve one day into a full minister or because I plan to start a coup-d’-église but because of the dreaded God slot.
The God slot, for those not in the known, is the part where you make all the rowdy young people stop being rowdy and sit and listen while someone preaches for five to ten minutes (length dependant on how many times you have to stop things and tell everyone to be quiet). In some youth clubs and places, this works brilliantly, in other youth clubs it’s a constant struggle, in others it doesn’t exist. Is there a better way than this? Well, if preaching is the method to use, then it’s the method to use everywhere, including in youth clubs. If it’s not, then the pragmatic arguments win and whatever method you find for imparting the Gospel that works is the one you should use.
That’s the question then, is the sermon the divinely appointed model of teaching and so preferable above all? I have no idea at the minute, having read compelling arguments for and against. But there are a few non-negotiables that are worth establishing.
- Words are important because that’s the method that God has chosen to teach us about him. We know God the Father by seeing the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit who brings the words of the Bible alive to us. The famous Francis of Assisi quote “preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary” won’t do (and not just because it’s spurious and St Francis of Assisi is going to kick your ass when you get to heaven if he finds you’ve been throwing it around like he said it).
- The Bible has authority because it is God’s word. We have authority not because we’re special but because it’s God’s word. Regardless of how you teach the bible you’ve still got that authority1.
- The power of the Holy Spirit is essential to the word speaking now into people’s hearts and heads (cf Hebrews 3:7)
- Bad sermons are legion, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have sermons.
- Bad small groups are legion.
- All pragmatic arguments for sermons are meaningless, because no-one here is arguing sermons aren’t useful in at least some situations (imagine Soul Survivor, or Mars Hill, or New Word Alive with no sermons). The arguments not for sermons or against sermons, the argument is for and against sermons as a particularly blessed model.
- There is a genuine office and position of leadership in a church.
1 Which is why bad teaching is so bad, because it pretends to be words from God when in fact it’s blasphemy. It is you saying “God is saying these things” even if you don’t say that.