Glimpses of Glory
How many voices speak of God in your church?

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 if they couldn't retain biblical knowledge? How would they live differently?

What I have since discovered is that lecturing a passive audience for 20 to 40 minutes, what Doug Pagitt calls "speeching," has been repeatedly proven to result in a very low retention of content. Likewise, adult education experts testify, along with a multitude of unregenerate pew sitters, that passive learning rarely transforms values. Does this mean we should abandon instruction in the church? Of course not. After all, we are commissioned to teach people to obey everything Christ commanded. It simply means traditional preaching is not the best medium for skill training and instruction.

But preaching is wonderfully designed for the prerequisite component of Willard's spiritual formation model - vision. Preaching this way will not always have the end goal of application, but rather inspiration. As Willard says, "It's the beauty of the kingdom that Jesus said was causing people to climb over each other just to get in." Only after people have a vision of God (the love, beauty, justice, and power of his kingdom) will they be ready to intentionally seek and employ the means to experience him through obedience - an aspect of spiritual formation that occurs most effectively in smaller settings through the medium of relationship.

October 15, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 13 comments

Julia Madas

September 27, 2014  10:29am

This is interesting because I've never looked at preaching and teaching as two different things. I look back though at times when people are given speeches and I see that if they are more "preachy" about it, I tend to remember more because they are more interesting to listen too. I get more out of someone who preaches to me than someone who teaches at me. This article put that into perspective for me. I've grown up with different teaching and preaching styles and this allowed me to see that I get more out of preaching than teaching. Definitely something to remember as I head into ministry.

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October 22, 2007  12:36pm

What is so marvelous of our living God is that He can take all of our effort to promote Life and still be serious with us. After all, it is still His battle (won) and He is still the one (and always will be) who gives the increase. Beauty out of ashes indeed. Be not dismayed, our Father still knows what is going on and He will make sure that salvation will be, proclaimed, announced, taught and most of all... experienced.

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Kevin Derr

October 19, 2007  9:43am

Preaching and teaching are parts of ministry that I enjoy, but asking what it means to do preaching in a missional fashion is another area where I need to grow and be nurtured. I am not convinced that preaching and worship as we often do in the western context does what people need to grow and mature as followers of Jesus.

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October 18, 2007  2:16pm

Michelle, I agree overall with the main point of your post, but I just want to say that my first reaction to it was that that was a pretty mean thing to say to a pastor. I am a pastor of four small, rural churches. Skye's article has helped me to think through my philosophy of preaching, and I have been thinking of ways to involve the congregations as active participants in the preaching ministry of the church. Still, the fact is that most of us were raised up and trained in a different paradigm, and it takes a lot of time and energy to make the shift. We pray, study, meditate, visit and listen to those we preach to, and then try to preach with all the passion and heart and conviction that God gives us by His grace. To have someone come up to me after that process and tell me that they'd be better off if I just gave them a copy of my manuscript because they "read faster"–well I just think there has to be a more constructive way of making the point! Like I said, I agree with your overall point. Our current, "lecture-style" preaching paradigm is very much inadequate. And I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I assume that your conversation with this pastor was not purposefully mean-spirited or offensive, but rather in a context of love and trust and support. I'm simply saying that we need to be careful with the way we say things and not let our frustration with the status quo translate into an unChristlike conversation. I belive God works through the foolishness of preaching. Is it possible that God can also work through foolish preaching, as well?. Not that we shouldn't improve, but that while we are learning, God's grace still abounds.

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Tim Aagard

October 17, 2007  2:51pm

Well said Fred. The pulpit + pew tradition does more to ruin saint's ability to live out their identity each week - members of the body of Christ. Every member has a mouth, a head, and a heart to be used when they gather. The "word of Christ will dwell in us richly" as we "teach and admonish one another". This is not said to be true of lecture by only hired experts. Well said Michelle. Truth retention and reproduction are at it's lowest in lecture format. Pulpit and pew gatherings are not a glimpse of glory. They are a glimpse of man's tradition. In glory there will be no lecturing. It will all be two-way communication. The God we worship is a two-way communication God. He made us to be the same way. The Bible does not say "lecture the Word..."

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October 17, 2007  10:12am

As a white associate minister in a primarily African American church I often ask the question why is the preaching moment so anticipated and dynamic in the black church and something to be endured in the white church ( I know...big generalizations here but stay with me). I think Pastor Jethani hit it on the head when he talked about preaching playing a role in producing vision and inspiration. The preacher in the "black church" understands that and engages the listener in looking to a great God and finding inspiration. This is not done at the expense of instruction but does become the inspiration for one to be obedient to Christ and to look to His Word for further help in becoming more like Christ. I think this is something to think about regardless of the type of congregation we are preaching to. Thanks for a GREAT post.

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Michelle Van Loon

October 17, 2007  8:43am

I once told a pastor that 45 minutes of my Sundays each week would be better spent if he just handed me the text of his message every week and let me read it, rather than having me sit and listen passively to it. (Even by adding the very Greek "note-taking" to my passive listening to his speeching, I still retained very little of almost every message he gave.) I'm a fast reader, so it seemed to me that I could finish his message in just a few minutes, and I would most likely remember more of it than I would by sitting in a classroom lecture. Even one that punctuated its main point with a pithy movie clip.

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October 16, 2007  9:58pm

As one who has sat for years listening to preaching in a large church may I ask a question that has dogged me for years. Out of the 4 or 5 thousand people gathered together on Sunday, is it only one man to whom God has gifted with a message for the week? This article offers a glimmer of hope, but still the responsibility for learning the word seems to fall on the pastor's shoulders. It's time to recognize that the Spirit teaches those who show up and sit at the Master's feet, regardless of title or lack thereof.

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mike rucker

October 16, 2007  7:05pm

seems to have a lot to do with what the gospel is. and the message that we're preaching. i just had some insight given to me which i posted here.

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October 16, 2007  2:15pm

I always knew there was a reason I couldn't sit through those "three points" sermons and was always flipping to Greek translations of words, bringing my own books, and emailing my pastors with ideas and trying to light some type of fire or inspiration. There are pastors and there are prophets. Why oh why was I given the red pill.... Yes, there does need to be leadership from the top. But when the leadership only knows one way, is there willingness to try another path? Change is scary. Some may not follow. Many cry "Not enough Biblical insight!" if only a few verses are specifically quoted during a sermon. But others need to be fed, to be challenged, to be mentored. It's a precarious position to be in if you're in it to be popular.

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