“Preacher, your long winded! I’ve got lunch plans and your preaching is interfering!” So said the anxious church member who thought a twenty minute sermon once a week was all the church needs, because, “No one remembers what you say anyhow!” I hope his chicken and dumplings were memorable. Church life has some interesting twists and turns. But, such encounters raise the question, “What is the real purpose of preaching?” Every preacher knows that the closer they get to the 12 o’clock hour, the more fidgety the people become. Pass that sacred time threshold and worship becomes something else altogether.
Over time it’s easy to forget why something was started. And what had a specific purpose becomes obscured as time passes. Church worship services sometimes fit into that category. Many people attend church every week, and if you were to ask them what the purpose is, they would most likely say, “To worship.” On the surface, that sounds good. But, then ask, “What is worship, and why do we do it?” At that point, the answers become thin and vague. The reality is that many people who attend church don’t really understand the purpose.
When Christ created his church, he was very specific in its purpose. Over time, his vision for the church has been obscured. Today, people think the purpose of church life is to attend church. It’s not uncommon to find people who believe attending church on Sunday morning is what God desires. Bring up the topic of church life and it’s not uncommon for people to say, “I go to church.” Now, I certainly do not want to minimize the importance of Sunday morning worship attendance. We are called into a special relationship with Christ that enables us to become worshipers of God. And we are called to do that as the body of Christ. But, a clear reading of scripture reveals that the purpose Christ created his church was not to attend a meeting once a week. The meeting was to serve a greater purpose. Certainly, worshiping God is necessary and has great value. But the worship is not something that is limited to a once a week event. The worship God desires from his people is something we do every day. Paul wrote to the Roman church, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1).
That one verse puts God’s view of worship on the table. From God’s point of view, worship is a lifestyle of service to him. Throughout scripture, this understanding of offering our lives as an act of worship is replete. If worship, then, is something that is far greater than a once a week meeting, then what purpose does the meeting serve? Good question.
Over the course of time, one can see that the way the church worshiped on Sunday changed. If you look at the denominations that are very old, you will see that their Sunday AM worship became very elaborate over time; and some might say beautiful. I’m not Catholic, but I have always thought there was an artistry to their services. If you look at denominations that are younger, their traditions are not as elaborate and may seem plainer, by way of presentation. But, no matter where you look, you will discover that much that takes place on Sunday mornings are things that developed over time. Much thought and energy has been put into developing a Sunday morning worship service in most churches. In fact, most of what churches do are geared towards that event. What should concern us, however, is that much that is done in church cannot be found on the pages of scripture. And much that is found in scripture is no longer found in the church.
For example, nowhere in scripture is there an emphasis on the church as a building, or a piece of real-estate. The church was never meant to be a place to go. Nowhere in scripture is there an emphasis on the types of clothes to be worn at church. Nowhere is there an emphasis on what music to use in worship. Nor is there an emphasis on the types of instruments to be used. For that matter, there is no office for a “worship leader” found in the pages of the New Testament. There is no instruction for an appropriate length of time for a worship service. There are no instructions on how to take up an offering, or how long a sermon should be.  The list could go on. But, there is a lot of emphasis on the proclamation of the Word in scripture; and the emphasis has a particular goal in mind – which is to make disciples who follow Christ. The many things we might find in a church are not bad – and they are not necessarily things that should be removed. But, the one thing that must be in every worship service, and which is not always found, is the need for the church to focus on preaching that seeks to build up the church body to spiritual maturity, so it can do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). The purpose of the church is not to have a meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to build one another up so the church can accomplish what Christ created the church to do.
If one surveys the book of Acts, you will not find any of the accoutrements of worship that are common to us today. Instead, you will see a gathering of people, at different places, for the specific purpose of promoting spiritual growth that leads to obedience and service. If the real purpose of worship, then, is to lead the church to grow spiritually so it can obey Christ, then an emphasis must be placed on the importance of preaching the Word, with the goal of making disciples who can follow Christ. To that end we will ask some basic questions that will help remind us why the purpose the worship meeting was created in the first place.
What is the purpose of preaching?
In short, the purpose of preaching is to train people to serve Christ. People who follow and serve Christ are called disciples. Christ was very clear that the purpose of his disciples was to be a witness to his life, death, and resurrection (Mathew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8). His mission was to save the world from the judgment which is to come at the end of the age. All people stand condemned because of sin, and only his sacrifice on our behalf can remove a person from judgment. Once a person is “saved” from the judgment to come, they are reunited with God. From that vantage point, they are commanded by Christ to grow in the knowledge of God, grow in holiness before God, and grow in their ability to serve God. All the various areas of Christian growth are for the purpose of being able to be a witness to his life, death, and resurrection, so others may hear and live.
Jesus commanded Peter when he said, “Feed my sheep.” How was he to feed the sheep? By preaching the Word. And this was done so the church would obediently follow Christ into the world. Speaking to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul wrote that Christ “Gave some to be apostles, some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry…” (Eph 4:11-12). He also told the young pastor Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We should not miss the connection between hearing the Word, and the outcome of hearing, which is doing good works. The good works are the works of making Christ known so others can be hear the gospel, and be saved from the judgment to come. So the desired effect of preaching leads people to participate in fulfilling the command Christ gave his church, which is to “Make disciples of all nations” who reveal God’s salvation to the world.
After the church was birthed at Pentecost, and after Peter gave his first sermon where three thousand people came to saving faith in Christ, the Apostles were found with the new “members” of the church where “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.” In other words, they were sitting under the teaching/preaching of the Apostles. This was a worship service. And the intent of their worship was to train the new believers to live for God in such a way that they may be “useful for every good work” (2 Tim 2:21).
Who is preaching for?
Therefore, preaching had, and continues to have, a specific purpose in mind. Preaching prepares God’s people to be an effective witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because this was so important to the early church, Peter told the church that they should, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).
Preaching, then, is primarily for the church. Preaching is an equipping ministry that leads the church to grow to spiritual maturity. This is not to suggest that the only topic for every sermon should be geared towards how to share one’s faith. Those who teach have an obligation to preach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Spiritual maturity is a product of drawing closer to God, learning to follow God, learning to obey God, learning to walk in faith before God, learning about the nature of God, learning to love God, learning about the nature of sin, righteousness, and holiness – amongst other things. There is a great amount to be learned from the Word.
But learning is never for the goal of gaining only an intellectual knowledge of God. The knowledge gained is always for the purpose of learning to live a life of faith before God. It is a life that seeks to please God (Colossians 1:9-10). The one who is following him desires to obey what God has revealed in the Bible. In the biblical economy of truth, only the things a person puts into practice, are things a person really knows (Mark 4:24-25). So, good preaching should lead the church to follow God as they seek to obey him.
What constitutes preaching?
In other words, what are the components of biblical preaching? If preaching is for the purpose of leading the church to follow Christ in a life of obedience, then the components of preaching should include, but are not limited to, sound exposition of the biblical text, a clear communication style that people can understand, compelling illustrations that help listeners see the truths being taught, and clear application that helps the church understand how the Word applies today.
- Sound exposition – the preacher must take time to teach the meaning of the biblical text. While some texts are clearer than others, it takes a proper understanding of the historical and grammatical context to clearly see the meaning of any given text. When Nehemiah preached from morning until midday (to a crowd who stood as he preached), the priests who were there “gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading” (Neh 8:8). And it should be noted, as they heard the Word, the people were actively worshiping the Lord (8:6).
- Clear communication – this goes without saying. But, there are people who believe that when the Spirit moves any form of unintelligible form of communication will do. However, the nature of the Word is that it is a written form of communication (revelation) that seeks to inspire the mind (1 Cor 2:16). God seeks to impart knowledge. Communicating that knowledge in a way that is clear and understandable is necessary. In that regard, using good mechanics of speech (tone, voice pitch, variation of speech, and enunciation), proper grammar, and good body language (for example), are all necessary elements of clear communication.
- Compelling Illustrations – while the Word is being communicated there are times it is necessary to help people see the meaning. Someone has said that a good illustration is like a window where one can see the truth. This has the effect of making the truth come alive to those who hear it.
- Clear application – if the truth is given to change and lead the church to follow and obey, then those hearing need to be taught how to apply any given text to their life. Truth is meant to be lived. Application helps those listening see what the truth can look like in their life.
What should be the expected results of good preaching?
When the truth of scripture is taught in an effective way, the results should become manifest in the lifestyles of those who hear it preached. The Bible says we are to “Adorn the doctrine of God” (Titus 2:10). In other words, those who hear the Word preached, should begin to evidence the truth they have received in the way they live. In that regard, truth should be worn. The church is called “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). And this should happen because “you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus” (v. 21).
And this is expected because, “The word of God is living and active (powerful), sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word has the ability to change and transform a person’s life. And when the Word enters a person’s life through faith, it will always accomplish what it was sent to do. God says, “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). As God’s Word is unleashed into our life, some of the things we should see prosper are:
- Repentance from sin
- A love for what is holy and good
- A hunger for the Word
- Love for God and others
- A desire to be obedient
- A desire to make Christ known
- A desire to worship in Spirit and truth
- A desire to serve God and others
When the things of God begin to grow in the heart of one who worships God in truth, the most fundamental change will be seen in one’s heart. As the heart is changed, the desires of that person change as well. As the heart changes, the things listed above (and more) will begin to be a living reality in the daily life of one who follows Christ. As the heart goes, so goes the life, and as the life is changed, that person will then find themselves following Christ, and seeking to make him and his salvation known. This is the outcome of biblical preaching; and this is the goal of all true worship.
 The word “church” in our Bibles translates a Greek work which means, “assembled ones or gathered ones.” The church is not the building (where the people gather) but the people themselves. In that regard a person does not go to church, they are the church.
 In the book of Acts, Paul was preaching to a church in Troas, and he preached all night!
 I suspect that if your average church member could be sent back in time to attend a worship meeting during the first generation of believers, they would not recognize the meeting as a worship service. They would be at a loss as to what was happening.