Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Principles for preaching: Who are you speaking for?

So, as far as I can see at the moment, preaching involves three distinct but related movements or postures.

1. You are listening to God on behalf of others.
     You've spent those hours in the study(or wherever) , pouring over the scriptures, trying to hear what God is saying, not just to the original readers, not just to yourself, but to the congregation you are to speak to. Preaching is standing alongside that congregation and listening on their behalf

2. You are speaking to the congregation on behalf of God.
           There is no way around this. When you get up to preach, you are saying that you have some access to the mind of God, and that he is speaking through you. You are claiming that you have something to teach the congregation, somewhere to take them. Perhaps this is the mode we are most comfortable with. 

3. You are proclaiming God on behalf of the congregation.
             I reckon this is the one we think about the least. Proclaiming Jesus is the job of the whole church, and when you get up to speak, you speak on the congregations behalf. You don't just talk to them, you talk for them. This is an encouraging thing for younger preachers (or older!!) who feel like the congregation knows more than them, who feel as though they have very little to 'teach' the congregation. The preachers job isn't to bring us something new, or even simply to teach us, the preachers job is to proclaim Jesus Christ. Our current emphasis on 'exegeting the congregation' is good, but it can tend to obscure this third role. We can fall into thinking that preaching is all about achieving some outcome for the listeners. Sometimes you need to cry out things for which the only response is 'Amen'. In fact maybe we need to do that a whole lot more often. I reckon the American preaching culture can be a bit better at this.

I think this is also why crap preaching is so offensive. It isn't just that you bored me for 30 minutes, or that you didn't  teach me, it is that you spoke drivel on my behalf.


Jonathan H said...

Nice thoughts. Proclaiming God on behalf of the congregation, does that suggest someone to proclaim to? Is there an implied public here?

Mike W said...

Yeah, I guess so. Which is perhaps why 'preaching' feels so weird outside of a public gathering. I feel like I'm doing something different when it is completely inhouse and closed door.
So impilied public, yeah
Or God, if we see preaching as part of the praise and worship of the congregation.

Jonathan H said...

I've been thinking more about your point 3. I think it's perhaps the aspect of preaching that we can enjoy most easily. What a good feeling it is when someone is speaking the gospel in your church and people are nodding and amening and generally looking like they are with her wholeheartedly. That's a great feeling, when I get that as a preacher it strengthens me immensely. At that moment I'm not confronting the people with something they find hard to hear, I'm singing the song they LOVE to hear most, the one that lifts their weary hearts. Love that.