Why do we preach?

Why do we preach?

On any given Sunday, and on some other days as well, there is a lot of preaching going on. By almost any measure preaching is one of the most common forms of public communication. It is, perhaps, also one of the least successful. There is a mountain of advice out there on the art and craft of the sermon and yet, it is a form of communication almost certain to regularly miss its mark. Congregations demand a weekly dose of sermonising, but few congregants will be able to give an account of what was said. Marshal McLuhan, a noted writer on communication once made the point that the medium itself communicates more effectively than the message it is meant to convey. In liturgical terms, the point McLuhan was making is the fact that the sermon is delivered is more important than how it is delivered — or it’s content. And yet, those of us tasked each Sunday with delivering a sermon do, by and large, take it very seriously indeed. 

Today, our preaching is backgrounded by multiple crises: the COVID pandemic, the parlous state of the environment, terrorism and unrelenting war, a loneliness epidemic and, in our churches, declining numbers and loss of “faith”. We feel, despite evidence to the contrary, that preaching should make a difference. Often we are disappointed and yet we return to it again and again, though fewer of us do. The inexorable shrinking of congregations, and the concomitant decrease in clergy numbers is making it hard to find skilled practitioners in the art and craft of preaching. Lay preachers, both trained and untrained, are having to step up (literally) to the pulpit. Good will abounds, but help is needed. 

That, mainly, is the reason for this blog, the rationale for which is this: that integral to the art and craft of the sermon is the asking of the right questions. Surely, in this troubled world we need to ask what to make of life and faith. Too often sermons come up with answers to questions nobody has asked, and on far too many occasions preachers do not know what questions people are really asking — even if those people are having trouble framing them.


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