Is Preaching Primary or Secondary? Good or Best?

David Allis writes in “When ‘Good’ Becomes the Enemy of ‘Best’” dated February 2006:

As I consider some of the aspects of church and Christianity I see around me, I am becoming increasingly convinced that many of us are settling for ‘good’ results, that are often the enemy of the ‘best’. We accept many things that are helpful in themselves, but are stopping us reaching out for the best. Another simple example is that of a starving person, who needs a full meal, but instead eats some nice chocolate which staves off the hunger pangs and stops them searching for that nourishing meal that their body needs.                

So what are some of the areas where the ‘good’ might be the enemy of the ‘best’? Consider these possibilities, which might whet your appetite (you can probably think of further examples). They all deserve more in-depth examination than this brief article can offer.

BEST might be private and corporate Bible study, listening to God, discussion, and working together in community to help each other apply biblical truths in our lives and communities


Sermons might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • Sermons are usually built around the ‘person of God’, who has had in-depth theological training, and has heard from God and is now disseminating the word of God to the people in eloquent discourse. This creates a dependence on being ‘fed’ by the necessary combination of ordained ministers + theological training + eloquent preaching.
  • Sermons typically assume that God is saying the same thing to everyone.
  • Few people can remember a sermon the next day, week or month (often the preacher can’t remember it either).
  • Passive listening is a very ineffective way of learning.
  • Sermons usually allow no opportunity for questions or discussion.
  • People who have been in church for many years, and have often heard 50-100 sermons each year, still think they need to be ‘fed’ by a sermon each week.
  • In the New Testament, preaching is almost always linked to preaching of the gospel or kingdom to those that are outside or on the edge of the kingdom. There is arguably no biblical basis for preaching in churches to people who have been Christians for many years, particularly as firstly the NT apostles were formulating new doctrine (which we aren’t allowed to do), and secondly we have the New Testament available to study ourselves, complete with many wonderful study aids.

  • BEST might be private and corporate Bible study, listening to God, discussion, and working together in community to help each other apply biblical truths in our lives and communities

So, with this one example of how preaching is minimized, what is a Gen X pastor to do?  I’m reading Preaching and Preachers by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones.  He summarizes his case for the primacy of preaching: 

I have simply skimmed the argument, the statement of it, in the New Testament.  All this is fully confirmed in Church History.  Is it not clear, as you take a bird’s-eye view of Church history, that the decadent periods and eras in the history of the Church have always been those periods when preaching had declined?  What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival?  It is renewed preaching.  Not only a new interest in preaching but a new kind of preaching.  A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the Church.  And, of course, when the Reformation and the Revival come they have always led to great and notable periods of the greatest preaching that the Church has ever known.  As that was true in the beginning as described in the book of Acts, it was also after the Protestant Reformation.  Luther, Calvin, Knox, Latimer, Ridley—all these men were great preachers.  In the seventeenth century you had exactly the same thing—the great Puritan preachers and others.  And in the eighteenth century, Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield, the Wesleys, Rowlands, and Harris were all great preachers.  It was an era of great preaching.  Whenever you get Reformation and Revival this is always and inevitably the result.

So my answer so far, my justification of my statement that preaching is the primary task of the Church, is based in that way on the evidence of the Scriptures, and the supporting and confirming evidence of the history of the Church (Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 24-5).   

With Lloyd-Jones, I conclude that preaching should have pride of place and is therefore BEST.  So let us not abandon God’s ordained method of proclamation. 


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