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Why are most church services
based around preaching?

Preaching means to orally "proclaim" something, and is usually used to describe the act of bringing forth a sermon or message. It is viewed as an important ingredient of a church service, largely because the whole foundation of the Christian faith, and the very reason for the church's existence, is derived from the Word of God, the object of preaching.

Scripture has a prominent place in Christian worship, just as it did in the Jewish Synagogue on the Sabbath. It was in this setting that Matthew's Gospel recounts a reading in Nazareth's synagogue by the local, rising young prophet, Jesus. Remarkably, it was on this occasion that He revealed His Messianic identity, that He was the fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah 61:1, from which He read. "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the LORD" (Luke 4:18-19).

Preaching was considered a primary thrust of Christ's mission on earth — a task that He passed on to the church to continue. He commissioned His followers to evangelize the world with Gospel preaching (Mark 16:15), and later when the church came together on Sundays, the course of worship would also include ample preaching or teaching, sometimes of a lengthy nature. "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight" (Acts 20:7). (Now doesn't this make you feel better about the length of your pastor's sermons?)

Preaching is always intended to bring about some desired result. To the unsaved, hopefully the preaching will inspire a decision for Christ. For the believers, the objective is to edify them spiritually. Dr. Jay Adams, a widely respected professor of homiletics, says "the purpose of preaching is to effect changes among the members of God's church that build them up individually and that build up the body as a whole. Individually, good pastoral preaching helps each person in the congregation to grow in his faith, conforming his life more and more to biblical standards. Corporately, such preaching builds up the church as a body in the relationship of the parts to the whole, and the whole to God and to the world."

Customarily, preachers will organize their message into the form of a sermon, which is "a speech with an organized collection of thoughts." It is usually constructed around an outline of key points, combined with an array of scripture references, metaphors, or illustrative stories to help convey the point. A sermon may also be referred to as a "homily," derived from the Greek HOMILIA, a mutual talk or set discourse.

There are a variety of sermon formats used by Bible preachers today:

    (1) A Textual sermon is one that limits itself to one certain thought or topic suggested by a particular scripture text.
    (2) An Expository sermon deals with the explanation and exegesis of a scripture passage.
    (3) A Manuscript sermon is one that is written and read to the congregation.
    (4) An Illustrated sermon is one that uses some means, such as props or drama, to visually depict the theme or point of the sermon.
    (5) An Evangelistic sermon is one focused on the appeal to unsaved persons to accept Christ — sometimes used to describe the fervent delivery of the preacher.
    (6) An Extemporaneous sermon is one that is brought forth on the spot without any deliberate preparation. Most of the preaching of the early church was on this fashion.

Many of the philosophies surrounding sermon rhetoric (the style and structure of oratory) were handed down from John Chrysostom, the fourth century preacher of Antioch and Bishop of Constantinople (A.D. 350-407). His preaching gift was enhanced by his childhood studies of Greek oratory. From the 6th century, he was referred to as Chrysostom, which means "Golden Mouth," due to the eloquent structure of his written homilies. Hundreds of these were preserved and upheld as model sermon outlines for generations of preachers.

Besides sermon structure, there are other great diversities in the styles of preaching, mainly due to the different personalities of preachers. The 19th century theologian, Phillips Brooks said, "Preaching is the communication of truth by man to men. It has two essential elements, truth and personality. Neither of these can it spare... Preaching is the bringing of truth through personality." Personality refers to the distinctive traits of a preacher — his speaking ability, his disposition, manners and enthusiasm — which deliver the message to the hearers.

It is generally not encouraged, but preaching styles are frequently influenced by the styles of admired peers and well known ministers. Billy Graham is one of the most emulated preachers in history — primarily due to his wide exposure through broadcasting. It is not uncommon to hear a preacher who sounds very similar. I know of several pastors who (perhaps unconsciously) use similar phrases, mannerisms, and the same rhythm of speech, which makes them sound very much like Graham.

One might assume that preaching is always based on scripture, but this is not always the case. Ministers in some contemporary churches rarely refer to scripture, if at all. Unfortunately, such sermons become nothing more than secular speeches or lectures, contrary to the pattern of New Testament preaching. More than anything else, people need to hear the unadulterated proclamation of God's Word that has power to transform their lives. The Apostle Paul's instruction to his young understudy, Timothy, was not to make speeches or sermons — he said to "Preach the word..." (2 Tim 4:2).

A Godly lifestyle, combined with the calling of God are the most important qualifications for a preacher. One doesn't have to possess a formal education to preach, any more than did the earliest disciples, many of whom were common fishermen and tradesmen. But it's to the preacher's advantage if he can attend a Bible college or seminary. Besides a need for mentoring and Biblical instruction, there are two preparatory studies especially helpful to the preparation of preaching. (1) Hermeneutics, "the science and art of Biblical interpretation," (derived from the Greek, HERMES, mythical herald of the gods and interpreter of Jupiter), and (2) Homiletics, "the art and science of preaching," (from the Greek "HOMILIA," a mutual talk or set discourse).

Preaching With Purpose, Jay E. Adams
Lectures on Preaching, Phillips Brooks

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.