I sometimes hear that preaching doesn’t change lives. I don’t believe a word of it.
I get where they’re coming from. I too have watched people harden, or at least remain unchanged, but the preaching of God’s Word every week. Even Jesus experienced this. Even in this, preaching is doing the work it’s meant to do. Sometimes the preaching of the Word hardens hearts. When it comes to Scripture, we must declare sides, and if we don’t respond in faith there’s only one other direction we can go.
I also understand that preaching isn’t the entire ministry of the church. It’s not enough to preach. We must do the other things that God gives us to do. The ordinary means of grace never look like much, but they’re essential for the life of the church.
But never underestimate preaching. When a preacher opens God’s Word among God’s people, the Spirit goes to work. Sometimes the results are extraordinary: people move from death to life, or God redirects the course of someone’s life. Mostly, changes are imperceptible. As we receive God’s Word week after week, seeing Jesus more clearly and being drawn into his presence, we’re changed from one degree to another.
I once rode a motorbike I had no business riding. It was far too powerful. I drove into ditches and out again, barely able to contain the energy of that bike. Preaching is like that. Preachers don’t wield a blunt instrument. Preachers stand and proclaim a powerful Word. It’s alive. It does its work. The preacher may think that he’s in control, but Scripture demands that we submit. We’re not in charge. God is.
Not only is the Word powerful, but something happens when the preacher preaches. The Spirit goes to work. Not always, of course. I’m sure I’ve preached some sermons that showed little evidence of the Spirit’s help. But when the Word is faithfully preached and Jesus glorified, the Spirit seems to do what no preacher could ever do alone.
Sadly, many of the critics of preaching are preachers themselves. I wonder if the problem with our sermons sometimes is that we expect so little of them. We start to rely on things God never promised to bless to buttress our efforts while diminishing the activities God promised to use to build his church. A low view of Scripture leads to a low view of preaching, which leads to preachers substituting all kinds of gimmicks instead.
But I’ve seen preachers who just keep preaching. They spend their best hours trying to live a Psalm 1 life, meditating on God’s Word all week long. They sweat in the study, preparing a sermon like a skilled chef prepares a meal. That preacher stands up on a Sunday before a small crowd or a large one. It hardly matters. They usually feel inadequate. They can think of all kinds of ways that they could improve. But they know one thing: God has spoken in his Word, and has entrusted them with the weighty responsibility to declare that Word to the people who showed up that day desperate to see Jesus. Knowing this, they simply believe that God will work as they preach the Word.
Preaching doesn’t change lives? Don’t believe it. Expect much from the preaching of Scripture. Work at it. Pray about it. Take it seriously. God’s Word is powerful, the Spirit is present, and our job is clear. Preach the Word.