Preaching gives pastors an incredible opportunity that most leaders do not have. At their best, sermons teach, inspire and provoke, which are three essentials for leadership and change. Whatever approach we use for sermon planning, preparation and delivery, preaching has the potential to form a congregation through the proclamation of a biblical vision for how we live and do ministry together as the people of God.
Retired United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon rightly asserts, “There is no way to preach God’s word without also leading the congregation in embodying the word, provoking movement from truth-hearing to truth-enacting in an actual congregation.” In other words, sermons lead by disrupting the status quo.
Some ministers and some congregants feel that preaching should be biblical and not political, as if such a thing is possible. When we erect a false dichotomy between the word of God and the day-to-day life of the church or avoid preaching sermons that disrupt people’s worldviews, we encourage the congregation to see the sermon as nothing more than a weekly motivational moment. When this happens, our members gladly listen to well-crafted sermons about the apostle Paul, and then they import values from corporate America to govern church business meetings.
What if your next sermon on love influenced the board’s ideas about the amount of money to allocate for missions and outreach? What if a message on loving our neighbor challenged the church to wrestle with gun violence or a school board policy? What if preaching a series on community challenged members to be more open to innovative ideas for evangelism? Sermons lead the church to be more faithful to its mission. Sermons also lead church members to more fully live the gospel where they are. As preaching becomes an intentional leadership practice, pastors will help congregations see the role of Scripture and theology in the life of the church and their daily lives.
By Will Willimon
Before you go…
A seminarian I know asked to interview me for a preaching class assignment. The first question he asked was, “What is your definition of preaching?” I agree with the classic definitions, such as “preaching is truth through personality.” But as a preacher whose primary context for more than two decades has been the local church, my definition of preaching must include something about the practice of contextual, concrete leadership. Just as the prophets guided Israel with comforting and challenging messages, with genuine humility, pastors must attempt to do the same. For this reason, pastors must be clear about where they are leading their people — and why.
Today is Monday, but we all know that Sunday is coming. So be encouraged and do what God has called you to do. As it is written in Hebrews, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword…” (4:12). Feel free to be in touch with me and the Alban Weekly team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Peace and blessings!
Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity