george hancock stefanI attended a funeral service of a pastor where a deacon remarked during the eulogy that he does not remember a single sermon that the pastor preached! Instead, he remembered the presence of this pastor in the hospital when he was sick, the arrival of this pastor at his house during a time of crisis, and the good time they had at a church retreat. I heard this same thing in so many other funeral eulogies that I brought it up as a failure of our teaching/preaching at a local clergy meeting.

I brought this issue up for four reasons:

  1. In the Great Commission, we are commanded to teach all the things that Jesus commanded
  2. The multitudes that heard Jesus were amazed at his teachings
  3. Apostle Paul tells Timothy to teach the correct doctrine (sound teaching)
  4. Whenever my first year college students come back to their home church, they tell me that their faith is immediately challenged in their classes and they are not ready to defend it

I am not concerned with people remembering the titles of my sermon but, in listening to various people, I find that the church has become a place to make us feel good instead of teaching us to change minds and equip them. The majority of the comments are that the choir made us feel good, the fellowship made us feel good, and the sermon made us feel good.  Again, I am not at all against us feeling good in the house of God.

But I do think that good preaching/teaching should change people’s minds or invite them to consider alternatives.  In fact I believe that one of the reasons for the negativity of the word preaching is that good preaching tells people a message from God that they do not necessarily want to hear.  No matter how one presents the Good News that God loves us, one also has to present the fact that God sent His Son into this world because we have disobeyed God and our ways, our thoughts, and our plans have become antagonistic to God. God says to us – my ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts. Therefore, you must change.

In fact, I have become more and more convinced that the whole idea of neutrality is completely absent from our culture. Whatever TV station you watch, whatever radio station you listen to, whatever is your favorite program or commentator on your internet, it has a point of view. CNN is as biased as Fox News (but in a different direction), the BBC has as many sacred cows as Al Jazeera, and Rush Limbaugh can refuse to see another point of view just as quickly as Chris Matthews.  We all carry our biases.

I want the youth of our church to be able to defend their faith when they go to college, and not just to remember our ice creams socials (as wonderful as they were). I want our church members to be willing to stand up in the working place and declare that they believe that the Bible is the word of God when somebody makes an unwarranted remark about “all those Bible thumpers.” I want our people to be able to stand and defend the uniqueness of Christ when someone says, “All roads lead to Rome and all faiths lead to God.” The Apostle Peter tells us that we should be able to give an answer for the faith that is in with meekness and fear.  

Good preaching and teaching should challenge the mind of the believer and equip her for the market place of ideas.  The question is not only if our congregation feels good on Sunday, but if they have been taught how to articulate their faith in their work place on Monday.