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What Is Distinctive About Preaching, And How Does It Differ from Other Ministries of the Word? (Part 1)

The Distinctive Role of the Sermon

The Distinctive Role of the Sermon

People read their Bibles at home. People go to Bible studies. Children and young people are taught the Bible. So members of churches are hearing the words of God all the time. What is different about the Sunday sermon?

What is distinctive about the Sunday sermon is that is addressed to the church? 

It is the one time in the week when… 

  • God’s people hear God’s words collectively, as a body. 
  • God addresses the corporate life, the shared common life, of his people. 
  • The people of God gather around the word of God, and
  • God is present among his people to speak to them about their common life. 

The Sunday sermon is therefore the moment in the week when the people of God together meet the word of God and and so the role of preachers of God’s word to God’s people is one of immense worth and unique importance. In our weekly sermon God’s people gather around God and hear him speak to them through his Spirit-inspired Scriptures.

The Importance of the Church

The Importance of the Church

The church is important because the fruit of the gospel is not just the conversion of individuals but the creation of the church. We can summarise the structure of the Bible God’s promise to Abraham,

“I will make of you a great nation” [Genesis 12:2], and Jesus’ promise to his disciples, “I will build my church” [Matthew 16:18]. The miraculous fruit of the gospel is not just mature believers, but mature churches. The fulfilment of God’s plan is the perfection of the bride of Christ, the holy city, the new Jerusalem when God will finally dwell among his people (Revelation 21:1–27). It is not that the churches only exist because individual believers need to be supported, taught, and encouraged. God’s big plan is to have his own people, the church of Jesus Christ, the temple of his Holy Spirit, and individuals are called and invited to join God’s people.

The gospel in the Bible is mostly described as God’s plan for the world, or God’s plan for the church. Jesus is the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Christ laid down his life for the sheep, that is, the flock of sheep, not individual sheep (John 10:15). Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25–27). The gospel according to Romans and Ephesians is not just about individuals but about God’s plan of salvation for Jews and Gentiles. God’s message to the world is: “Believe in my Son and join my people.”

Brainwashed Into Individualism

Brainwashed Into Individualism

Those of us who live in the Western world have been brainwashed into individualism. We think and feel as individuals, we regard individuals as the most important form of human life, we privilege individuals over communities, so we assume that God’s main concern is for individuals, and so we read and preach the Bible as if it was addressed to individuals.

And our individualism is expressed in our focus on personal daily Bible reading [a good thing to do!], and in some instances, prioritising a home group or Bible study with friends over hearing God speak to our church.

Evangelicals often individualise the gospel. Converting individuals is a good thing to do, but individualising the message results in new converts who may still need to be convinced that they need to belong to a church, and who may be need to be prodded to engage in global mission. We in the West live in a strongly and selfishly individualistic society, and so it makes sense to package the gospel to attract individuals. But ultimately individualism distorts the gospel, which is about God’s people, God’s community, Christ’s church, his body, his bride. In Calvin’s words…

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.1.1.​ –

The Fundamental Audience of the Bible

The Fundamental Audience of the Bible

The books of the Bible were mainly addressed to God’s people, not to individuals. Deuteronomy records Moses’ sermons to God’s people. Paul mostly writes his letters to churches. And when he writes to Timothy and Titus their churches also receive the letters, as each one ends, “Grace be with you.” Paul’s letter to Philemon was also addressed “to the church in your house” [Philemon 2]. And of course, although Luke wrote Luke and Acts for Theophilus [Luke 1:1–4, Acts 1:1], it was a practice of the day to dedicate writings to an important person, with a wider audience in mind. Most of the Bible addresses the corporate life of God’s people, corrects their corporate sins, and affirms their corporate strengths. As the letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3, are addressed to the corporate life of the churches, so is [most] of the Bible. Corporate sins are the most damaging sins, because all participate in them. And corporate strengths are so positive, because all are challenged and encouraged to share in them. So for example, when the instruction is “love one another” [and of course the “you” is plural], it is not enough for me as one member of a church to try to do that. I must not rest until everyone in the church does it! 

Individualism in preaching [that is, merely addressing individuals] misses the main purpose and aim of the Bible, and so mistreats it. Even in individual Bible reading, we should be thinking of how this message impacts our church. We need to realise how frequently “you” in the Bible is “you” [plural], rather than “you” [singular]. It would help if we popularised the word “youse”, as we could then use it in our translations of the Bible! We should use the Bible for the main purpose for which God wrote it, to create, mature, train, correct, transform, equip, and perfect his church.


Part 2 of this article can be found here.

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