Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Missional Church and Preaching

What role does preaching play in the missional church? Those from a traditional perspective argue that preaching is central and in some cases the ultimate means through which discipleship occurs. On the other extreme are those who claim that preaching is passé—even unnecessary—and should be replaced by circular conversations.

It is easy for the two ends of the spectrum to take pot shots at one another, while most fall somewhere between. I grew up in a traditional church where the pulpit was the highlight of the church life. Hearing the Word of God preached was viewed as the hallmark of Christian faithfulness. I entered into vocational ministry in order to become a preacher like the great W. A. Criswall or Joel Gregory. In my 43 years, I've probably heard somewhere between 3000-4000 sermons.

I've also participated in the denegrating of preaching, questioning the value of the sermon by asking common questions like
  1. Why do we need to hear a sermon on a weekly basis when there is no way that we can implement or apply what we hear in one week's time?
  2. What more can be learned from another sermon when we have heard so many?
  3. Why do we need to hear a sermon when we are being discipled in our small group or missional community?
But these questions assume that the point of the sermon is:
  • Application,
  • Education, or
  • Spiritual Formation.
In many traditions, these three have been the goal of preaching. I would propose that the point of the sermon in the missional church is not any of these. While sermons might include application, education and/or aspects of spiritual formation, I would like to suggest that missional preaching plays a slightly different role. This role could be summed with the phrase "shaping the imagination."

We need to hear weekly sermons because we need to have our imaginations shaped by the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. We need to hear this one revolutionary sorry over and over because this one story changes everything. And we need this drilled into us. 

Preaching is not the only way to shape our imagination, but it is one that is crucial. This imagination lays the foundation and clears a path for mission. Instead of being the center of the church life, missional preaching creates a space for the people of God to re-remember the truth that we often overlook when we are out participating in our missional calling. Missional preaching that proclaims the old story that Jesus came, Jesus lived, Jesus died and Jesus rose takes the people of God back to the basics of what it means to be the people of God. 

I've realized—after much reflection—that all the sermons that I've heard have shaped me at an unconscious level. They shape how I see the world, God and what God wants to do in the world. I don't remember the content of many of them. I am far from applying them to my life. And my level of discipleship is no where near where it needs to be. But I'm glad those sermons are raddling around within me because they ground me in the story of God. In the missional church, the sermon is not primarily about application, education, or formation. That happens in other contexts. The sermon can do what it's best suited to do: shape how we see the world. 

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