Conservative churches rightly emphasize the preached word. Paul says “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14). The emphasized whom is how the Greek ought to be translated rather than of whom, as the NIV and ESV mistakenly have it. People need to hear Christ, and not about Christ.
The bulk of a minister’s time ought to be given to preaching. This doesn’t need to be counted as minutes actually writing it or reading a specific book for it, but rightly understood, connected and applied, a preacher centers his broad reading, evangelism, counseling and teaching to that preached word, for it is there that Christ specially speaks to his people and there the power of the Spirit of Pentecost is felt. The pulpit is the prow of the world, as Melville called it.
It’s ironic that churches that most value the pulpit often flag in its application. If Jesus came and spoke this Sunday at your church, would you talk about what he preached on? Of course. Yet this is exactly what Paul says happens every time a minister faithfully proclaims the Word. We fail to intentionally interact with it, to take that gift and wring all we can out of it. Small-group focused churches routinely minimize the importance of Sunday worship other than as an evangelistic event. The preaching is largely for unbelievers and therefore not challenging to mature Christians. It is wrung out in a few minutes on the way back to the car. Then the action comes Wednesday night at the small group when the Bible is examined and the deep things of God brought out. The small group has now become the place of theological depth and personal sanctification.
Sermon-based Bible studies and small groups uphold the Bible’s high view of preaching, allowing, in fact requiring, the minister to preach in-depth and challenging sermons. They also require those sermons to be earthly good. Every sermon does not need explicit applications (as any survey of the Apostolic sermons in the book of Acts will reveal), but every sermon does need to be applicable. Rather than draw people away from the centrality of Lord’s Day worship, sermon-based studies bring them in, making them pay attention, take notes, and prepare to think later about it. Larry Osborne relates a common case:
Let’s take Marginal Mark as an example. He comes to church primarliy for his wife and kids. During a typical sermon, he daydreams about his job, some major decisions he’s facing, or his fantasy football team. He’s a moral guy, just not too “religious.” He’d rather leave the extra stuff for those who are really into it.
Now let’s imagine that his wife gets him to sign up for a sermon-based small group. Suddenly, despite his previous lack of interest, he’s listening at a deeper level. He’ll almost certainly start taking some notes. Then he’ll look at them again, however briefly, before the meeting. At the meeting, with some friends in a safe and non-judgmental enviroment, he’ll discuss the Scriptures and what it means to follow Jesus.
The hook has been set.
He’s now interacting with the Word of God at a level far beyond anything he’s ever done before. And in most cases it won’t be long until the Scriptures start to do their stuff convicting him, instructing him, and training him in a righteousness he didn’t even know he was looking for. (Sticky Church, p. 66)
Jesus speaks through fallible men, and because the words are his, they scatter out beyond worship, accomplishing his purposes. Churches ought to make sure the pulpit echo as far as possible.