Isn’t a 45 minute sermon overkill?

Some people wonder why many churches commit almost half of the public worship service to the individual proclamation of the Word of God? ‘Shouldn’t we allow more time for the entire community to speak’ they ask? Certain Evangelicals have suggested that preaching itself is outdated and should be replaced by more modern alternatives. Dr. R. Albert Mohler was recently asked the following question: “Must the sermon be a monologue? If not, should it be?” (This quote was first recorded from nine marks ministries http://www.ninemarks.org/) Make sure you check out the monthly newsletter they put out. In future posts i will talk about why many people today prefer dialogue teaching over preaching.

Dr. Mohler’s response to the question (must the sermon by a monologue) is very insightful. “The very shape of this question is interesting. In the first place, I would not consider the public proclamation of God’s Word to be best characterized as monologue. It is one voice speaking, but this voice is not speaking on behalf of himself, but as the one charged with proclaiming and teaching the Word of God. At the same time, there does not seem to be a biblical warrant for a more dialogical form of preaching. If anything, the biblical model appears to assign the preaching responsibility to an individual who dares to speak on behalf of God by presenting and applying God’s Word.

I think of a text like Nehemiah 8:1-8. In that setting, Ezra and his colleagues “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood their reading.” Earlier in this text, we are told that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” Those preaching spoke with authority. At the same time, it would not be appropriate to suggest that these hearers were passive. They were active recipients of the preached Word. They were “attentive.”

In the same way, a church congregation is not to sit passively in the pew merely observing the preaching of the Word. To the contrary, the congregation should be actively involved in the disciplines of hearing, receiving, and responding to God’s Word as it’s preached by the one who is invested with those responsibilities and gifts.

A similar approach is evident in the New Testament. When Paul instructs Timothy about his preaching responsibilities, nothing in the text suggests that Timothy will be involved in a dialectical enterprise with the congregation. Instead, Paul charges Timothy with the sacred and solemn responsibility to preach the Word “in season and out of season.” If anything, he warns Timothy against taking the response of his hearers into too much consideration. This can hardly be described as a dialogue.

As I see it, the push for a more dialogical form of preaching is a redefinition of preaching as described in the Scriptures. This shift seems to go hand-in-hand with larger cultural movements against the idea of teaching authority and the very idea of an authoritative Word. The last thing modern evangelicalism needs is the substitution of congregational “dialogue” for biblical preaching. This plays into all of our modern temptations and, in the end, threatens to remove the authoritative Word from our midst.”

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5 responses to this post.

  1. I was at Steve Lawson’s church last week and the Sunday evening fellowship groups go over the sermon from that Sunday (thankfully the group I attended didn’t critique my sermon from that morning, but the previous week’s!). This allows for people to interact, ask questions, make comments, and to really chew the cud. I thought it was an excellent way to allow the Word to calcify in our hearts.

  2. Posted by Caleb Kolstad on February 5, 2008 at 12:03 am

    Jonathan,

    It can be a very helpful practice for the church to find occasions in which people can discuss the sermon…In some regards people SHOULD be doing that anyways. Fellowship is often missing even at church.

  3. It also seems that skepticism about objective, knowable truth has led to the idea that preaching should be replaced with dialogue; that truth, insofar as it can be known, can only be arrived at in a given community.

    This idea (dialogue over preaching) certainly does not come from Scripture, which is telling enough for me.

  4. Jonathan,

    Most of our Fellowship Groups (our title for small groups) just started going over the sermons when they meet. This is a little odd as I attend one so I get to hear what people thought of the teaching – humbling.

    I have found this to be VERY helpful for the reason you stated above. I’m actually getting more feedback than I ever have on the preaching. I think this is because people are applying the sermon all week and prepared for the next installment.

    I think it helps with the evaporation that usually occurs between Sundays as life crowds in.

    It’s also a great way to get informal feedback on my sermons. I see where I was unclear or confusing, without people feeling like they have to specifically tell me. It just falls out of the group discussion.

  5. […] we talk?” Thanks to Caleb who in his post yesterday pointed out the growing trend among preachers to deliver talks rather than sermons. A […]

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