We live in a dark world. Our hearts long for goodness, beauty, justice, and peace, but they are often hidden behind the shadow cast by evil and sin. This is why preaching is so necessary. Whenever the kingdom of God is proclaimed, it is like a bright burst of light. In those brief moments, the shadows recede and we are given a glimpse of a world behind the darkness. It is a sublime vision that reorders our perception of reality and leaves us hungry for more.
This understanding of preaching, the unveiling of an inspiring vision of God's kingdom, is not the one I've always held. I was formed to think that the primary purpose of preaching was instruction. This view of preaching expects the informed, articulate person behind the pulpit to teach the congregation divine truths and skills. The pupils are then expected to bury these seeds of biblical knowledge away in their brains where in time they germinate into godly values and behaviors, although few people seem surprised when they don't.
In Dallas Willard's V.I.M. model of spiritual formation, he differentiates three parts: vision, intention, and means. Instructional preaching falls under the third component - means. It teaches people the methods through which they can obey Christ. These "how to" sermons usually have clearly articulated, often alliterated, application points relevant to one's life.
I never questioned this "preaching as instruction" view until I stepped behind the pulpit myself. What I discovered disturbed me.
Despite my hours of preparation, thoughtful use of visuals, and tangible takeaways, most people retained very little of the nutritious content offered to them. Like my lactose-intolerant son who spat up every ounce of milk we gave him, how would people thrive ...