And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.
• Justin Martyr, First Apology c. 150 AD
Here is the kind of preaching I hope to do and long to hear when I worship with a faith community on Sundays:
- Rich in nourishing content, with a usual focus on making one main point
- Pastoral (gracious, sensitive, compassionate — good preaching is loving your congregation through words)
- Concise (I’d say twenty minutes max)
- Literate about life, human nature, and the ways of the world
- Imaginative and poetic (creates a metaphorical world and draws us in)
- Faithful to the Story of the faith and the particular text being preached
- Brings the congregation into the presence of Jesus so that we might encounter him again and have our faith renewed
- Prepares the congregation to be sent into daily life “between Sundays” as followers of Jesus who lay down their lives for others
In my opinion, this kind of preaching functions best within the context of the traditional liturgy structure:
- Gathering together before God
- Hearing the Word
- Coming to the Table
- Being Sent into the World
Please don’t misunderstand me — when I say “liturgy,” I am not suggesting it must be a particular style of service (such as traditional or contemporary). I have argued before that the form and order of the liturgy is the important thing. The Christian worship service is and has traditionally been understood as a meal gathering.
The purpose of the Word in such a gathering is to reinforce the gospel of Jesus that has brought us together, which gives us life, and which we will celebrate and be nourished by once again at the Table. We are then sent out into the world to live in this good news daily with Jesus among our neighbors.
In other words, the reading and proclamation of the Word is a community-forming act. Like the tradition of families having regular Sunday dinners and spending time in conversation and storytelling, in the the Christian meal gathering such preaching helps bind us together, satisfy (and increase!) our hunger, deepen our organic ties with one another, and equip us to bear the family name in daily life. “The goal of our instruction is love…” (1Tim. 1:5).
The kind of preaching we hear (and the kind of service we participate in) determines the kind of community that will be formed.
That’s why I believe so strongly in the kind of preaching I commend here.