THE NEED FOR PREACHING
By Wayne S. Walker
The need for preaching can be seen in Jesus’s great commission, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). It can also be seen by the fact that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). And it can be seen from the instructions of Paul to Timothy to “preach the word…” (2 Tim. 4:2ff). Yet today men in all areas of life are doubting the relevance of preaching and its ability to save souls. This is acutely true in the Protestant world. Countless churchgoers are heard to remark, “I just didn’t get anything out of the sermon; I felt so bored;” and many openly sleep through the preaching. These phenomena, especially the latter, are not unknown among churches of Christ either.
Where a few years ago it would have been next to impossible to find a preacher of any religious persuasion who spoke less than an hour—and many took two or three, now it is increasingly difficult to find one who talks over twenty minutes at the most—ten to fifteen minute sermonettes are commonplace in denominational churches. The same thing is true among our brethren, in that while once we had ten day, two and three week, or month long gospel meetings, many churches have shortened these to weekend “teaching sessions” where the speaker is asked not so much to preach the Bible as to “discuss” issues, problems, and needs. Some are even calling for an end to gospel meetings altogether and in their place substituting personal work as the “complete answer” to our problems. In general, the very word “preach” has taken on a negative tone. No one wants to be thought of as “preachy” or to sound like he is “preaching.”
Now do not misunderstand me. We need weekend teaching sessions and personal work—especially personal work and lots of it. But these should not be used to the exclusion of the oral proclamation of the word of God. However, it is my belief that in the area of evangelism, we are going to have to change our concept of the purpose of verbal preaching. In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, those who led the attempt to restore the New Testament church, and those who immediately followed them, relied heavily, if not entirely, upon public speaking to spread the word. And it seemed to work. All a preacher had to do was to put up an announcement of a “revival” (as they called it), and the building, tent, or brush arbor would be jammed full. There might have been from ten to one-hundred or more baptisms. But this is not true today, and this fact has caused many to lose faith in preaching.
My response to all this would be, from what I have been able to gather from reading books and listening to lectures on “restoration history,” that our forefathers may have had a somewhat erroneous view of public preaching. I sometimes wonder how much better response they might have obtained had they combined personal work with their efforts. Now I am not so caught up in “our modern methods” to think that the pioneers did no personal teaching, but it does seem that they put a special emphasis on the pulpit. I do not believe that God ever intended oral dissertation to be the first and foremost means of telling the good news. Because of the conditions, it sufficed in times past. Now it does not. We need to realize that it is not preaching itself, but our notions about preaching, that make it appear obsolete in our era. The reason we think it is not working is that we are expecting it to do something it is not supposed to do.
Actually, verbal discourse from the pulpit should be looked upon less as a direct means of conversion (i.e., someone comes to services, hears a sermon, and obeys the gospel) and more as an attempt to stimulate and motivate those who have already been taught by more personal means, as well as to make new contacts to continue teaching. I believe this is more in line with the New Testament teaching in passages such as Acts 2:42, 5:42, and 20:20. The real point I want to make is that we need balance in our work in saving the lost. We need to integrate our use of personal evangelism, evangelistic meetings, and special efforts to edify the saints into a whole program of church activity. If the congregation would spend the six months before a meeting in intense personal work, coupled with occasional short sessions designed to encourage them in their labors, they might be amazed at how more effective their meetings might be. Let us have an increased number of extended series of Bible sermons designed primarily to exhort sinners to obey the gospel. But let us not put such series on a pedestal and look for them to accomplish something by themselves that they were never meant to accomplish.
—taken from Torch; Feb., 1976; Vol. XI, No. 2; pp. 7-8