The Priority of Preaching
By Eddy Sanders
I heard a familiar theme at lunch this past Sunday. I was sitting with a couple new to our church, and one of them said, “We’re here because of the preaching.” The couple are new enough to our church and Christian discipleship that they don’t know all of the “right” answers. They only know their honest and heartfelt answers. They’re attempting to figure out what it means to follow Jesus. Preaching has proven instrumental in their journey so far.
Our conversation got me thinking about preaching, and I came to the following conclusion: Preaching should remain the absolute priority of the church. No matter the size of the church or its address, preaching must take precedence.
I realize that statement conjures up some questions: But what about worship or the Lord’s Supper or baptism . . . ? The list could go on, and it probably should. But I believe there are two dominant reasons why preaching should be the priority of the church.
The Church’s Message
The first reason is that the church’s identity is based on a message. The church’s nature is really that simple. It’s wrapped up in a message about Jesus Christ: He was fully God and man—suffered, died, and rose again to atone for our sin. We believe that message.
And when someone has a message of significance, he or she communicates it!
Think for a moment about major movements in world history. At the center of the civil rights movement was a message communicated over and over. People heard that message, attached themselves to it, and changed American culture. Or think of Winston Churchill’s role in World War II; he communicated consistently the reality of the war England was fighting.
The same thing is true with individuals on a much smaller scale. What does a young couple do when the wife discovers she is pregnant? When the time is right, they tell family, friends, and neighbors about it!
We have an eternally important message, the most important message the world has ever heard. We must communicate it.
In order to communicate the gospel of Christ, preaching must remain our priority because our identity is based in a message.
Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, offering, worship, and other elements of Christianity are absolutely essential. I’m not downplaying them at all. But preaching has priority because it is the medium, or the tool, through which we hear and grow in our understanding of these other elements.
To further grasp the importance of the church’s priority of preaching, let’s look at the Lord’s Supper for a moment. I believe we proclaim a message when we celebrate our Lord’s death and resurrection through the Lord’s Supper. Often, that proclamation is a witness to unbelievers. At a minimum, it gets their attention. Hopefully the Lord’s Supper will lead to questions and conversations about Jesus. Preaching is where those questions are answered.
Preaching may also be the time when the meaning of baptism is explained, the reason for worship is offered, and the Lord’s Supper is explained in depth.
When Paul addresses the topic of the Lord’s Supper with the Corinthians, he uses preaching vocabulary. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The same word proclaim was used two chapters earlier and was translated preach (1 Corinthians 9:14). The Lord’s Supper communicates a message. The Lord’s Supper preaches an important message without the use of words!
Why is preaching the priority for the church? The first reason is because our identity is based upon a message. That message must be communicated. Preaching is the most natural place it happens.
Why was the couple I ate lunch with even at our church? Because of the preaching. In the preaching, they are hearing a message that deeply matters for their lives.
The Bible’s Example
The second reason preaching must remain the priority of the church is observable in the lives and ministries of Moses, Jesus, and Peter. In each of their ministries, preaching was the catalytic event woven into important transitional times in their lives.
Moses had led the people fromEgyptthrough the wilderness to the promised land, and, before they entered, Moses stopped the Israelites and preached (Deuteronomy 1:1-5). As Gary Hall has written, Moses “was more than a lawgiver; he was a preacher and teacher.”1 Moses’ ministry ended with a sermon, or rather a series of sermons. He finished faithfully, not by entering the promised land, but by preaching. His life was complete with his preaching.
When Jesus began his ministry, he “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted” (Matthew 4:1). After resisting Satan’s temptations, Jesus did something shocking. Rather than visit John the Baptist in prison, he withdrew to Galilee (4:12), and “from that time on Jesus began to preach” (4:17).
I’m left with questions after reading this brief section. Why didn’t Jesus get John out of jail, or advocate for him, or at least visit? Matthew does not answer these questions, but he does make it clear that Jesus’ priority was preaching.
Preaching was at the center of Peter’s ministry too.
In Acts 2 we find Peter with the disciples in Jerusalem. It is the Day of Pentecost, and a violent wind came from Heaven and what seemed like tongues of fire rested on the disciples. They spoke in other languages, and the crowd that gathered responded in two ways. The onlookers asked, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12), but then some of the onlookers “made fun of them [the disciples] and said, ‘They have had too much wine’” (2:13).
Peter stood to explain the arrival of the Holy Spirit by preaching. Acts 2:14-41 records his sermon and the onlookers’ response. The church began that day with a sermon.
Preaching was a priority in the Bible. The Old Testament prophets were preachers. As scholar Marvin Sweeney notes, Old Testament prophets “appear to have functioned first and foremost as speakers.”2 Not only did the church’s ministry begin with preaching, but preaching remained important throughout Acts. Preaching is found in Paul’s letters, as evidenced by 1 Corinthians 9 and 11.
So if we believe preaching to be important, what is the practical element that emerges? I believe it is found in the comment the new couple at church made to me: “We’re here because of the preaching.”
Shouldn’t this be a familiar theme for your church as well?
1Gary Hall, The College Press NIV Commentary: Deuteronomy (Joplin: College Press, 2000), 42.
2Marvin A. Sweeney, The Prophetic Literature (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 37.
Eddy Sanders is discipleship minister with Madison Park Christian Church in Quincy, Illinois.