Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Centrality of Preaching

Recently someone expressed concern over a statement in our arts ministry that implied that artistic media is capable of “outperforming” the preaching of the Word in the divine work of calling people to saving faith in Christ. It is by no accident that I had been spending quite a bit of my time lately thinking about this very issue. I have been asking fundamental questions like… What role does the arts have in worship? What role does preaching have in worship? How should this influence how we go about planning our services?

One doesn’t need to be in music ministry long to hear comments from artistically “bent” people like “I wouldn’t mind if we’d sing for 60 minutes and have a 10 minute message.” At these comments some worship leaders smile and think about what an effective ministry they must have to have earned such a compliment. Why do you think it is that worship leaders are so fond of meditating on 2 Chronicles 5? Solomon is dedicating the temple, the Ark of the Covenant is put into place, the trumpets blast, cymbals clang, and singers sing. The presence of the Lord fills the temple like a cloud keeping the priests from continuing to minister. Worship leaders are raised dreaming of that moment when the emotional ballad ends the music set, the glory of God fills the room, and the preacher says “God is here… let’s just keep singing!” Certainly, we would all love to experience the glory of God in such a powerful way, but should this really be our consuming passion? If we are not careful, we risk becoming egocentric, thinking that “our medium” is somehow more linked to the glory of God than preaching.

Let’s look for just a moment at Romans 10:14-17.
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” but they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Based on this passage, and others like it, we’ve got to be very careful to not view services in such as way as to assume that slick marketing, excellent music, relevant dramas, or great technology will make or break God’s agenda for the service. Though mediums such as music are essential and even commanded by God in worship, Romans 10 teaches us that there is a special role and calling for the preaching of the Word as well as the administration of sacraments. Preaching and the sacraments of baptism and communion are primary means by which God chooses to create faith. This is well articulated in this line from the Heidelberg Catechism, “The Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it through the use of his holy sacraments.”

So what are a few practical applications for those of us who love and lead worship through various artistic mediums? For one, we must work hard to serve God’s agenda for the spoken word by asking questions like “how can we creatively program a service to serve the spoken word?” or “what artistic elements will accentuate this weekends message/sermon?” We can also fervently pray for our teaching pastor who has the primary responsibility of bearing the Word of God through preaching week after week. It is a responsibility that demands hours of study, close attention to scripture, doctrine and the history of interpretation. How often do you pray that God would direct your pastor’s preparation and work powerfully through his messages? If your answer is “not much” then I would challenge you to start praying regularly for his ministry.

In closing, consider these words by Michael Horton in his book “A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship.” (P. 64)
While there may be other supports for the Christian life, “faith comes by hearing the preached Word,” says Paul. While the Spirit is free to work apart from these means, he has promised to work effectually through them alone. We must resist the temptation to associate the work of the Spirit with numbers and noise, or we will inevitably miss the magnitude of what the Spirit is doing every week in the ordinary ministry of the means he has appointed. God works savingly then and there because he has promised to meet us then and there.


Julie said...

In your entry, you asked the question - “How can we creatively program a service to serve the spoken word?” I’m not sure if that is the right question to ask... I think the better question might be “How can we creatively program a service to serve the word?”

Psalms 40:3 reads “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.” To me that suggests that someone could come to faith through sung words. Another verse that actually mentions using musical texts as speaking to each other is Ephesians 5:19-20 “ Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I believe every medium that uses words has the power to teach through its faithfulness to and use of God's word, including music. Any crafting - or even selection - of words for a service: dialogue, story, lyrics, prayers, preaching – should demand "hours of study, close attention to scripture, doctrine and the history of interpretation.”

Just my $.02

scooterpastor said...

I do definitely agree with you Julie. God can and does use many different means to administer his grace. My point was to give clarity to why we must value the role of preaching in the church and why it is so important for us to pray for those with this high calling.

The scriptures do emphasize the importance of the preaching of the Word in a very special way throughout the scriptures (2 Tim 3:15-16, 1 Cor 1:24, Rom 10:14-17).

In my mind, this clarifies the rationale behind why we strive to compliment the teaching of the Word with the arts.

In the same way as a marriage can be seen as a complimentary relationship between a man and woman, the role of preaching and the arts are a complimentary means of God’s grace within the church. I think we’re on the same page. : )