Sunday, 26 April 2009

Preaching in Church

A friend of mine at College did some serious thinking about the place of virtual church - 'attending' church on-line. It seemed a somewhat ethereal issue at the time, but not any more. Churches have sprung up in Second Life, and the increase in podcasts of sermons is unending (one wonders if this is the new measure of success as a preaching - not church size, but number of downloads).

Obviously Lloyd-Jones didn't stream his sermons, and in Preaching and Preachers he doesn't comment on the pros and cons of multi-campus, live-streamed video links. But he does deal with the 1970s equivalent under the objection to preaching that people would be better to stay at home, read journals and published sermons, or listen to preachers on the radio. Listen to Lloyd-Jones' answer:

Another thing, which I find very difficult to put into words, but which to me is most important is that the man himself [who listens to a sermon on the radio or reads printed sermons] is too much in control. What I mean is that if you do not agree with the book you can put it down, if you do not like what you are hearing on the television you can switch it off. You are an isolated individual and you are in control of the situation. Or, to put it more positively, that whole approach lacks the vital element of Church. Now the Church is a missionary body, and we must recapture this notion that the whole Church is a part of this witness to the Gospel and its truth and message. It is therefore most important that people should come together and listen in companies in the realm of the Church. That has an impact in and of itself. [...] The preacher after all is not speaking for himself, he is speaking for the Church, he is explaining what the Church is and what these people are, and why they are what they are.
Preaching and Preachers, p.42

His point is that the church itself is part of the preaching event. They are the people of God formed by, constituted by, the Word of God. They are under His authority. And by their very existence they testify to the veracity of this word. This word is truth - here, look around, see this truth in action, in reconciled relationships, in forgiveness, in love, in Jew and Gentile sharing a meal.

To hear a sermon is not only an intellectual exercise. It it to submit to God's authority revealed in the Scriptures, mediated by the Spirit, in and by the company of God's people.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Pastoral Preaching

Lloyd-Jones' task in his book Preaching and Preachers is to show the primacy of preaching - to show that it is the church's primary task. Early on in the book he justifies this in light of attacks on preaching, and particularly the place of 'personal counselling' as being the minister's primary task rather than preaching. Such counselling has its place - yes. But it is to supplement, not supplant the preaching.

Many of us would agree with this, but I wonder if we actually tie the two together as strongly as we might? I think we often say that the word is being preached, and the word is being used pastorally, and leave it at that. I wonder if we could do more. I wonder if in our pastoral visiting and care, whether we would do well to use the sermon as the launching point. To use what was declared in the power of the Spirit as the place where we start our pastoral care. Not just 'what did you think of the sermon?', but 'Sunday's sermon dealt with the issue of X. Tell me about this in your Christian life.' To do so would be hard work - if like me you're on your own in a church (i.e., the preacher is doing most of the pastoral work) it can feel a little arrogant - but it would be saying that what happens on a Sunday is not just a take-it-or-leave-it event. It is God's word being declared to God's people, and should therefore have an effect on their lives. And our job as curer of souls is to see that effect worked out.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Preaching and Preachers

We've recently been on holiday, where I read Lloyd-Jones' Preachers and Preaching. It's one of those books where I've dipped into it, but, until now, had never read through. Even though it was written in the early 70s, following a series of lectures given in 1969, it contains perennial truths. There's much in it which we could disagree with, and it's obviously written by a preacher - there are sweeping statements made which only later are nuanced and refined. But there is a sensitivity and a joy to the task of preaching which just flows out of the book. Over the next few days I hope to post a small series of highlights (and low-lights, which will help us think things through) from my reading. My aim is that we might think more carefully about preaching, and about the place of preaching in the congregation (and the task of the preacher in that congregation), and ultimately be spurred on to the task of proclamation of the gospel which has been entrusted to us.