By Joe Grana
When I was in school, a chapel speaker predicted that preaching would not exist by the year 2000. He was partially correct: preaching as we “knew it then” does not exist. And that probably is good.
However, preaching is not out of vogue. The foolishness of preaching Paul described (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) was not the act of preaching, rather, it was the message of the cross that seemed foolish to those perishing, but the power of God to those being saved.
So it is today. Preaching the cross will continue to impact lives, but the way it is done will need to continue to change. The North American Christian Convention developed the theme of “It’s Time,” and this year’s preaching demonstrated that reality.
It’s time to listen up, speak up, get connected, reach out, risk, and celebrate. That message preached with the focus of church planting came through loud and clear. Here are some of my thoughts and opinions about the preaching.
Hear and See
I sensed a balance in the use of media and narrative.
Most people connect with visual presentations. The prophets referred to a plumb line, rotten fruit, and a wayward wife. Jesus pointed out birds, grass, and trees. In medieval times traveling drama groups depicted biblical stories. Cathedrals were built with stained-glass windows.
Today we have PowerPoint and video. These media were used in appropriate and helpful ways. I believe some preachers rely too much upon these forms of communication. Others, however, are afraid to try. Balance is the key. People want to hear and see. But I have mixed feelings about putting the Scripture and text on screen. It’s good that everyone can see it, but the negative is people don’t open their Bibles. If I am not preaching, I don’t usually take my Bible because I know it won’t be needed. What does that subtly convey to those worshiping?
Tell a Story
Much of the NACC preaching this year was narrative in nature. Sometimes this was a form to tell the text. Usually, however, the narrative was a contemporary life story of the preacher or of how God worked through another person’s life.
Jesus, of course, perfected storytelling. His storytelling kept people spellbound and curious and sometimes made them angry when they understood the point.
Narration/storytelling is an effective means of preaching in our culture. The postmodern world loves a good story. It is wise to connect God’s story with our story, and to overlap it with another’s story! Scripture is his story. Our faith is a journey of a story. God’s story is still powerful today!
Interspersed in this year’s preaching were what I call “zingers.” I like zingers. They are one-liners strategically placed in the middle of the narrative. Here are just a few I gleaned from this year’s preaching:
“God gives vision and provision.”
“Trust is needed, not clarity.”
“Faith and fear cannot coexist.”
“You will have conflict, but you cannot run.”
“When you get to the end of self, you are at the beginning of himself.”
“Don’t go to church, be the church.”
“Tell them what they need, not what they want to hear.”
“Do I need a ticket to get into church?”
“It takes longer to grow a tree than a man.”
“Plant churches so people can climb into the branches.”
“You don’t have to retreat to have a positive response from the Word.”
“Don’t dwell in the past and don’t denigrate the past.”
Inspirational or Scriptural?
In context these, and others, are insightful and challenging phrases.
That idea of context, however, leads me to another aspect of preaching. In today’s church we find a lot of prooftexting. The text is quoted to make the point, rather than the point coming out of the text. This year’s sermons were biblically and theologically sound—for the most part. (There were, in my opinion, a couple incidents of “stretching the text.”) However, there was little real exegesis. The text supported ideas rather than giving ideas.
Now, I never say never. I have preached messages like that too. As a rule, I tell the congregation I am not preaching a sermon today, for which they usually applaud. I tell them my intent is to share concepts on my heart that I think are helpful.
Most people, unfortunately, do not see the difference when I am through. Perhaps they have not heard enough biblical sermons. I, at least, feel better since these messages are more what I am saying than what God is saying, regardless of how biblically sound.
Maybe inspirational instead of scriptural is OK for the NACC. That approach is not bad or wrong. Maybe we should just be clear about it. Some years, NACC themes have been developed leading us through a book of the New Testament. This approach can present a model of sound biblical preaching.
Talk, Don’t Shout
Another important element of preaching is how the word is communicated.
I tell my students that preaching is an extended conversation. One should preach as one would converse. The difference is that some methods of oratory can help convey the message more effectively.
Shouting is seldom helpful. Perhaps it was the sound system. Perhaps it was passion. I know at times of passion I can be too loud or, especially, speak too fast. However, constant loudness can diminish effectiveness. This happened sometimes this year. Variety is the key.
Overall, I was blessed by the NACC preaching. The messages were inspiring, informational, challenging, and encouraging. Each preacher shared his heart. Each one developed his part of the theme.
The focus of church planting is critical to the expansion of God’s kingdom. Church planting deserves major emphasis. Every church and every Christian can participate in church planting. We can pray, give financial support, and partner with others. No church is too small and no Christian is too isolated to participate.
Joe Grana chairs the church ministry department at Hope International University, Fullerton, California.