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A view from the pew ::

After preaching at an average rate of twice a Sunday for 16 years, DAVID BURKE returned to the pew in 1989 after taking up Christian Education work. We asked him for a view from the pew…
Source: Perspective Vo1 No4 ©Perspective 1999

The Priority of Preaching
Viewed from down here in the pew, let me say one thing. Your preaching is more important than you might think. We all know the theory. Acts 6 records how the Apostles were separated from other ministries of the church so that they could devote themselves to prayer and preaching the word. And Paul told Timothy not to neglect God’s gift but to busy himself with the public reading, teaching and preaching of Scripture.

But what about in practice? Now, it’s true that parish ministry isn’t just preaching and teaching the word, as Paul’s other instructions to Timothy suggest. Woe betide the minister who fails to visit, who fails to be seen in the community, who neglects schools and hospitals and who professes disinterest in church buildings and finances. But… worse still is the minister whose PRIORITY is these things and whose pulpit work is a hobby. The longer I sit in the pew, the more I am convinced that a strong pulpit can carry other omissions and weaknesses in ministry, but that nothing compensates for a weak pulpit.

Yes, Christians should read their Bibles for themselves. And they can use Bible studies, camps, conferences, books, tapes and such like to help their spiritual growth. But do they? My overwhelming impression is that many Christians are too busy, lazy, disorganised or whatever to take advantage of these options. Sunday morning then becomes simply critical in their spiritual life and growth. As a working mum said “Sunday morning is just so important to me. If I am not built up there, I get it nowhere.”

Given this, the work of preaching should be a key priority of time and energy. Preachers need to de-clutter themselves so as to be fresh, well prepared and just bursting to go when they step into the pulpit. Was it really worth it to tire yourself with that Presbytery task or designing a handout (Or a Perspective? Ed) and then to be drained on Sunday?

Preaching to Real People

Robert Banks imagines a perfectly tuned car with purring engine and horsepower to burn. Trouble is, the car is on the mechanic’s blocks and not touching the ground. Is our preaching like this?

You and I know that discussions on south versus north Galatia, one covenant or two, infra versus supra lapsarianism and Van Tillian versus evidential apologetics are burning issues that cry out for resolution. And what heroes we are to mount the pulpit and declaim bravely on these topics far away from the scrutiny of our colleagues.
But does it surprise us when the congregation is unexcited? As we rave on, their minds are doubtless somewhere more interesting: Should I be pushing myself at work to keep the job or gain promotion? Why is my sex life dull? How do I deal with my teenager who is failing at school and wants to drop out and leave home? How do I relate to the active homosexual at work, the de facto couple next door and the never ending busyness of life? Why doesn’t coming to church help me?
The Bible addresses those issues and they are profoundly theologica1. Do we address them from the pulpit?
I’m not suggesting that the pulpit’s menu should be determined by the congregation’s expressed desires or that preaching should be mostly on current topics. What I do suggest is that preachers take time to listen: Where are your people coming from? What are their concerns? Having listened, you can then begin from the knowns and givens of the people and apply the word to their lives and needs. Expository preaching need not be an intellectual hike to the preacher’s favourite haunts – it can be a walk alongside the travellers on the narrow and difficult road of life. Perhaps this is not as dramatic as declaiming on the theologian’s issues, but it is certainly useful.

Our family has hamburgers on many Friday evenings.
They’re real hamburgers from a local cafe, and just one ’burger with the lot satisfies our teenage son who is a bottomless pit. On the other hand, our occasional meal at McDonalds leaves us feeling unsatisfied, no matter how much bulk we eat. Some preaching is like this – it has chronological bulk but no nutritional value. How does preaching gain substance? Our local cafe uses quality ingredients, puts time into preparation and applies skill in cooking the hamburgers. So it is with preaching. The preacher who tries to construct sermons with little research and little time cannot expect to rescue the preaching with rhetorical garnishes and sauces. I have heard preachers boast that they can prepare sermons in an hour or so. Indeed they can – but it shows!
Our congregations contain many people who know their Bible well, who are pouring themselves out in life and ministry and who want real meat from the pulpit. The quickie we prepare in minutes not only fails to satisfy this desire, but it breeds restlessness among the saints. The quickie is generally characterised by platitudes, repetition of thought trains from earlier sermons, repetition within the sermon, and lots of waffle. It gives heartburn, but leaves the pangs of hunger.
Please, brothers and sisters, close the study door, hook up the answering machine and put your heads into Greek and Hebrew texts, commentaries, concordances, theological works and your own mental slog. Preparation breeds substance and substance feeds the people!

David Burke

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