Continuing our series of excerpts from Leading with the Sermon (out now with Fortress Press!), here’s a piece on preaching as “A Mutual Endeavor”—
Throughout the history of the church’s preaching, one senses a certain nervousness within the church, a recurring lament over the state of preaching. The church is right to worry about its preaching because every Sunday sermon is an experiment, a public test of the church’s claim that Jesus Christ was indeed raised from the dead and continues to call the very ones who betray him. Either my preaching produces one credible Christian every decade or so or mine is a life wasted.
If embodiment, performance, of the gospel is the test of preaching’s fidelity, then my proclamation of God’s word is ground zero for the detonation called church. I can do many things well in my leadership, but if God refuses to construct the church through my preaching, I receive no greater accolade than being dubbed an effective manager of an efficient volunteer organization.
Preaching sets the terms under which my congregation can justly be called a church. In each Sunday’s sermon the church is reminded of who it is and to whom it is accountable. Preaching reiterates the identity and the mission of the church and enables Christians to discern and differentiate the story that forms and ever reforms the church as God’s.
In Mark 3:14–15, Jesus calls the disciples: “He appointed twelve and called them apostles. He appointed them to be with him, to be sent out to preach, and to have authority to throw out demons.” Three cardinal purposes of the church are in evidence: we are convened; Jesus speaks to us, commissioning us; and then we are sent, scattered as Christ’s witnesses. By his word, we are gathered and told who we are; at his word we are commissioned, sent out to speak his word. The preacher preaches to the church on Sunday so that the laity might proclaim Christ to the world all week.Leading with the Sermon, pp. 16-17