As I have traveled these past few years, I've heard the repetitive refrain from despondent pastors: "I always thought that if I preached a good sermon the church would grow." I heard it again last week so I thought I'd comment on it along with two other beliefs about preaching. Here are 3 dying myths (IMO) of Christendom about Preaching.
MYTH 1: If You Preach a Good Sermon the Church Will Grow
Many a despondent preacher has discovered that this notion is no longer true. It has become a dying myth in post-Christendom. Nevertheless, it gets reinforced by mega churches who leverage (by video screens, etc.) one or two gifted teachers to build crowds coming to consume a good sermon. These examples are largely drawing on the leftovers of Christendom—people still looking for "good teaching" that is portable and user friendly to somehow improve their Christian lives. I take no offense in ministering to those of us who are still part of Christendom, we need to be fed and nurtured too! I just want all pastors who aim their ministries in this direction to realize the pie is getting smaller and the competition hotter. Anyone still holding onto the premise—if I just preach a good sermon, they will come—and ministering in a post-Christendom context, must either compete or be grossly disappointed with the continued dwindling of his/her congregation.
Having said all this, the "great halls" (stadiums) of preaching distribution will not connect to the lost souls of post-Christendom. Post-Christian people are not attracted to the sermon as the first place to go in their spiritual distress. We must help leaders understand that if you spend 35-40 hours a week in your office preparing a good sermon on Sunday, making it not only theologically competent (which is worthy) but slick, you are ministering to the dying vestiges of Christendom.
MYTH 2: Who You Preach To is Who You Will Reach
I have heard it said repeatedly "who you preach to is who will come." This has worked within Christendom for centuries. Today, in post-Christendom, it has become another dying myth that IMO should be dispelled. It says that if you preach to unbelievers in your service your members will start inviting their unbelieving friends to hear what you're saying. But if you don't preach to unbelievers you'll have a worship service full of believers. But again this feeds on the impulses of Christendom—that the way to bring non-believers into the Kingdom is through inviting them to hear a good sermon. This does not make sense to those who can think of nothing more irrelevant and disenchanting than going to listen to someone "preach at me" (often their perception).
MYTH 3: The Goal of Preaching is to Make the Bible Relevant
We pastors, who are at the end of our wits in the fields of post-Christendom, will often try to make our preaching more relevant. Caught between the winds of the Neo-Reformed who argue "we just need to preach the truth and they will come," and the mega church gurus who argue that "we need to make the Bible relevant," we make a last ditch effort to do the latter (because we've already tried the former). Sadly however, this is a Christendom attitude that attempts to pull in the Christendom leftovers with a more updated gospel ready made to fit their already Christianized lives. As more and more churches try to "out relevant" one another and the leftovers of Christendom become anesthetized to relevancy, "making the Bible more relevant" is revealed as yet another dying myth in post-Christendom.