Sydney and preaching...

Earlier in the year a mate who recently moved to Sydney made the following observations. I thought I'd throw them out there to see what the feeling was like.

One thing I have really noticed about Sydney more broadly: preaching takes a quite different shape. Most sermons are short (25 mins) but cover as much biblical material as our 40 minute sermons. This seems at first to be more efficient, until you realise that it is (generally) because they have not illustrated or applied the passage very much. Sermons are more like lectures than at home, and there is less evidence of "preaching to the heart". This is not necessarily because people do not like it, but just have not heard it. In fact, preachers like David Jones are well-liked by people once they have heard him.

I suspect this culture is (again, broadly) due to two beliefs: 1) positively, that the mere explanation of the Bible is sufficient to move people to repentance and faith; and 2) negatively, that extrapolating on the text in application is dangerous.

I agree with the underlying motive: to preserve doctrinal purity. But I think it makes too little of the fact that many preachers in the Bible, not least of all Jesus and Paul, often illustrate and extrapolate on OT texts to drive their message home to their listeners. I also think it is just poor communication.

I also think it is the product of a wider, "slow and steady wins the race" approach which, although it has lots going for it, has a tendancy to infantalise people. For example, many of the guys in first year at college have only preached a handful of sermons in their lives and who are scared silly of preparing one unless they have 25 hours to do so and have read four commentaries on the passage. This is an exaggeration, but not a large one. It worries me a bit.



onlinesoph said... 8/30/2007 3:23 pm  

I think there is some truth to it. However, I probably wouldn't say all Sydney preachers are like that (though I don't think that's what your mate meant).

Sam went to a preaching conference called "Preaching from the Heart" last year that addressed this issue of passion, personality and conviction in preaching. That is so important in preaching, I agree that you need to draw lots of application and the richness of meaning from the text.

I'm not sure about your last paragraph though. What do you mean by "infantalise people?"

I felt like you were saying "lengthy preparation equals passionless, unmotivating preaching". If you are, I don't think this is true.

I think people need to be realistic about the amount of time they'll have to prepare a sermon, but it is good to spend as much time as you can on a sermon, to value the preparation and understanding of God's word. I think the issue is more to do with communication, packaging and passion.

Powerful preaching may look "fly by the seat of your pants", but in fact the greatest sermons have hours of untold preparation put into them.

Bron said... 8/30/2007 3:32 pm  

I agree with that last paragraph, if I get what you're saying: not that this preaching = infantalising people, but that the system infantalises them and then because they lack experience their preaching suffers.

About the same time that Nick was telling me he thought 10 hours was pretty adequate for sermon preparation, a friend told me that her husband had recently agreed to limit his sermon prep (quite significantly) to get it down to 20 hours.

I personally fit into that category of having only done a handful of sermons and needing a lot of preparation time, so I totally sympathise. But, I mean, I'm a girl! I've only had a handful of opportunities to preach! I haven't done MTS and I haven't been preparing myself for a lifetime of ministry in the same way that guys have.

What's worse is this: at college you will not be taught to preach. Sure, you'll get a few classes on it here and there, and you'll get a few practical opportunities. But the only way you'll learn at college is by having some experience going in (so you can make the most of what teaching you do get), by being a self learner, or by having a good minister to mentor you in your student minister position.

You can't look down on or blame the guys in that position, but you can look at the system as a whole and try and work out what's going wrong.

onlinesoph said... 8/30/2007 3:59 pm  

If the issue is lack of experience and a system infantalising people (as Bron mentioned in her first paragraph), then I agree with that.

I also agree that having experience is important when you're at college, whether via a student minister position, MTS or just actively seeking opportunities.

I do think, though, that preparation time is important. I don't know enough about how long it takes to write a sermon to say "X amount is enough" (and it is subjective, as it depends on the giftedness of the person, etc).

John Dekker said... 8/30/2007 4:16 pm  

David Jones is one of very few preachers I've heard who is able to preach for 40 minutes.

CraigS said... 8/30/2007 5:45 pm  

David Jones is one of very few preachers I've heard who is able to preach for 40 minutes.

Can the skill be taught, John?

One Salient Oversight said... 8/30/2007 5:46 pm  

Preachers need to work out for themselves how long they can preach for. Some people can preach for 50 minutes and the listeners are rapt throughout. Others can preach for 25 minutes and put people to sleep.

I personally think that the preacher should explain and apply every single thing that the passage raises. The reason for this is that we have to serve the text's author (God), not make the text serve us. In practice, this may mean that the preacher actually preaches more than one sermon on the passage being studied.

The problem with some preachers is that they are all knowledge and no passion. Other preachers have the opposite problem - no knowledge and lots of passion. At least the boring preacher sticks with the text and, to my mind, is to be preferred of the two. But of course we need to develop the third option - knowledge and passion at the same time. "Setting hearts and minds on fire" is what true exposition does, since it addresses the whole person - their intellect as well as their emotions.

Stan and Clare said... 8/30/2007 5:49 pm  

I don't know how much I agree with you Mike or your mate.

I'm not sure about the "efficiency" or sermon lectures. I wonder whether we don't focus on the text enough and are more "catholic" in the institutional sense. What I mean by that, is that we need an institution to interpret what God is saying to us. And I don't think that's very Biblical. Isn't it God who preaches to the heart ultimately?

But as for application, I wonder whether we force the issue with application, on a passage which has nothing to do with that application. I've heard there is an article called "the Heresy of Application" by Haddon Robinson, which apparently is good (I need to read it for myself). I think Chappo says that application is not an opportunity for the preacher to have a free for all.

Also, I wonder whether we can broaden the borders of application - rather than just action, it is also in thought and understanding as well? Cannot our thoughts and understanding about God be corrected and counted as application?

But as for passion - yea, I've heard some, but I wonder whether thats part of their personality.

But yes, I do agree with illustrations being included in sermons - they help bring the biblical world and the 21st century together.

BSJ-rom said... 8/30/2007 9:44 pm  

Can the comment be made that people are living out the application of the passages taught in either case? Which method is best for "Spurring each other on in love and good deeds"?

The proof is in the pudding.

John Dekker said... 8/30/2007 10:53 pm  

I doubt it, Craig.

To some extent preaching is always going to be a mixture of natural ability and learning, but I would think an ability to preach for a long time would be almost all natural ability. And yet, you wouldn't be able to do it until you are trained.

Mikey Lynch said... 8/31/2007 7:13 am  

Another danger with expository preaching is that the secondary aim (v-a-v: helping people read the Bible for themselves) becomes the primary aim. The primary aim must be proclaiming God's word.

One Salient Oversight said... 8/31/2007 10:31 am  

"Application" depends upon its context. Reading / studying / preaching Scripture without application is, in the words of Jesus, like building your house on the sand.

Application has to be a natural outworking of the passage being studied. However application may be more than just changing behaviour, it may also result in changing thinking.

The passage being studied must tell you what the application is. You can't start with application and force it into the passage.

mike said... 8/31/2007 10:34 am  

I agree Proclamation and teaching a text aren't mutually exclusive.

I've listened to many a sermon that has been dead and lifeless (lecture). The word of God taught? Yes. The word of God proclaimed hearts moved to repentance? I'm not so sure.

What's the difference between a "lecture" on a particular text and a "sermon"?

John Dekker said... 8/31/2007 4:43 pm  

I would say it's the proclamation, which includes a call for change. But maybe it also includes style and the use of the imagination...

Here is Luther's lecture on Galatians 4, and here is his sermon on Galatians 4:1-7.

This is from the sermon:
Here Madam Huldah with her scornful nose - human nature - steps in and dares to contradict her God and to charge him with falsehood. She bangs upon herself her old frippery, her straw armor -natural light, reason, freewill and human powers. She introduces the heathenish books and doctrines of men, and proceeds to harp upon these, saying: "Good works do precede justification..."

That's preaching, not lecturing.

Donners said... 9/04/2007 2:44 pm  

"What's the difference between a "lecture" on a particular text and a "sermon"? "

I wonder if it might depend on what audience the preacher/lecturer is teaching?

The difference between the purpose and the audience? both involve teaching, but perhaps one has a stronger emphasis on pastoral/practical adminition?

Also,John, I think David Jones can talk for an hour and get away with it. In fact, I get to a point where I don't want it to end...

Mark Driscoll has talked for more than an hour in the talks I've heard and I've usually just queued up another one straight afterwards...

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