KINGSLEY, MI – “Why do people want to hear preaching today?” I’ve asked this question a number of times. I’ve discussed it over the years with colleagues and students, and at a recent Send Network Church Planter Assessment it was asked of a candidate.
Think about it. Preaching in the 21st century is utterly absurd. With YouTube, Netflix, and multi-million dollar blockbuster movies, who wants to sit and listen to a guy talk for thirty minutes? I’ve seen church budgets, and I’ve never seen a line-item for “preaching” approaching anywhere near a small independent film budget, let alone a blockbuster.
People don’t just tolerate preaching – it is the primary reason they come to church in the first place. A Gallup poll conducted in 2017 found that 75% of churchgoers cited the preaching as the biggest reason to attend church. Think about it. People choose to watch one guy talk, rather than staying home and binge-watching Netflix dramas. It is absolute insanity.
So why do people still gather, and still want to hear preaching today? I think Martin Luther came to a good answer which the reformers summed up as: The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. It is a very provocative statement. But it doesn’t mean that everything that we call preaching is actually preaching. No, the quote is referring to correctly communicating the biblical text. I think Luther and the reformers were right, though. And I think this is why people – millions of people – gather every Sunday in a physical place. I think this is why Christians around the world want to sit and listen. People want to hear the audible voice of God, and preaching offers them the opportunity.
I suspect this is why congregations often place their pastor on a pedestal. Even if he constantly communicates his absolute need for Christ, he is still speaking the words of God. This is why a pastor who is not a particularly skilled communicator is still the best preacher in the eyes of his congregation – because he is speaking the Living Word in their physical presence. Luther’s idea is simultaneously horrifying and encouraging to me. It is horrifying because as James said, “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment.” But it is encouraging because I have come to realize that something always happens when the Word of God is faithfully preached. God speaks through his Word, through his servant, and to his people.
Whether people are conscious of this reality or not, this is why millions gather every week to hear preaching. This is why a multi-billion dollar film industry cannot compete with preaching. No, we don’t have a special-effect budget or large marketing firms, but we do have something that no one else can ever offer: The opportunity to hear God’s voice in person every week.
God speaks every week at your local church.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nathan J. Norman is the senior pastor of The Orchard Church in Kingsley, MI, and the moderator of the North West Baptist Association. He teaches preaching in Vietnam through CrossTalk Global – a multiplying teaching organization. And he produced the Untold Podcast – a storytelling program.