I recently had the opportunity to preach and was once again reminded that it is hard and difficult and that I know nothing, but it has forced me to wrestle with the purpose of preaching. I know it is a gift to be used to edify the body. But how does that practically play out? Is our preaching to transform individual Christians in order that they would look differently which would inadvertently affect the body? Is it primarily preaching to the body as a whole and how the truth affects the way we as a local expression of the body of Christ conduct ourselves? What is the aim or application of our preaching? Is it individual application, community application, a mixture of both, is it for vision casting?
These are the questions I have asked myself often lately and I don’t have the answers. It appears from the state of our churches that they both despise and breed a consumeristic mentality of shopping for the favorite flavor of preaching that it is about individual Christians. If this is the case, then it borders on self-help psychology engaging you as an individual to make you a better Christian so everyone reaps the benefit, but the primary focus is the individual believer.
This doesn’t sit well with me, since individual Christianity is seen nowhere in the Bible. The Bible talks about the fact the Christ came to establish a church, a people who would follow Him. It speaks of the church as His bride, His body, and the means by which he restores and redeems the world. The gospel calls individually, but it calls into a body, and the epistles (which are most commonly preached) are primarily addressing certain situations within a church body. If the Bible tends to address Christians as a part of a group then our preaching can’t focus solely on the individual.
If it is just about the individual, then why do we need a local body? I’ll just pop in my favorite podcast if I’m not going to get a contextualized message and in that case, why am I going to church? I know church isn’t primarily preaching, but let’s be honest, it’s the primary focus of our Sundays, let’s not kid ourselves.
It seems to me that our preaching has a 3-fold reach in regards to focus and application. It seems that each message has an individual application in how we view God, a community application that explains to the body how this message affects the local church they sit in and informs the strategy or theology of their vision and then finally how it affects the way Christians live in and engage a secular society that doesn’t agree with them.
These are my thoughts, but I do not feel that this is how it is typically accomplished, which makes me wonder if I’m wrong and if I’ve constructed something out of preaching that should be carried out in other ways in the body. I don’t have the complete answer, but I want to know the right answer.
In the end, I’m honestly confused and obviously frustrated and so I ask you, what is the purpose of preaching? Who is it for and what is it supposed to do?