Is The Sermon What It's All About?
The following is based on a posting I made to the Churchbass mailing list. It turned out to be a longer essay than I expected, so I thought I'd post a copy here as well.
Have you heard people saying, "the Bible says that it is through preaching, the sermon, not anything else that people get saved."? That statement, in my humble opinion, is utterly wrong. They might be uttering it very sincerely but that just makes them sincerely wrong.
I'd guess that they are referring to Romans 10:17:
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ" (NASB)
That passage certainly talks about preaching, but I think that Paul had a wider definition of that term than most 'preachers' you will encounter. The word of Christ which he shared was certainly not limited to a privileged slot in a weekly church service.
The only other reference I can find to 'the word of Christ' is in Colossians 3:17:
"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you..."
However, if I finish that quote, you'll see that if anything it would promote worship through music and singing over worship through listening and reflecting:
"... with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."
Putting those two verses together, it would appear that music is picked out as a very appropriate way in which to share the word of Christ, which is heard unto salvation. To be more careful in my study, I must of course read around both verses, and I think Colossians 3:17 is really the lynch pin:
"And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to the God the Father."
It's not just about music and it's certainly not just about what the preacher says; the word of Christ is really heard as we live our whole lives giving him thanks and praise. This is the the word of Christ, heard with the eyes as well as the ears, that speaks salvation to the world.
As one of the worship leaders in my church, I do the following things, which I present as an example (although not necessarily a normative one):
- Before I start picking songs, I seek to identify the theme that God would have me choose. Often this will be in the form of a song that gets stuck in my head but it might also be something I've read, heard or seen.
- Our worship times tend to comprise of about six songs apiece - I generally find two or three songs that really fit my theme well and several more that I'm not so sure on. I'll mull it over for a few days and then winnow it down to about six, maybe with one or two in reserve.
- If I don't have a strong sense of leading one way or another, I'll exercise my God-given common sense... am I competent to lead the song, will it be familiar to the group (and congregation), how does the key and style of the song fit with the rest of the set, am I reflecting the breadth of the congregation's styles and not just my own favourites (classic hymns, bouncy childrens choruses, space for the joyous and the burdened)?
- Once I've got the set together, I'll inform my worship team (a subset of the overall group). I'll make notes about any specific arrangments I have in mind and ask for comments - I don't desire autocratic control over the process.
- As the day approaches, I may make adjustments, based on the comments I receive and on other things that come to me. For example, one time I was leading the Sunday after a church meeting which had been positive but a bit bruising - I dropped the first song in order to play 'Make Me a Channel of Your Peace', which had come to mind during the meeting and struck me as very topical.
- In the leading itself, I'll still have to be flexible. I normally use at least one short passage of scripture and give some space for congregational contributions. Sometimes we might have to drop a song because another one carried on longer than planned, or play something completely different because of where the mood has gone.
- We make lots of mistakes, from hitting a few wrong notes (or lots of wrong notes if you talking about my singing) to crashing and burning so badly that we have to stop and restart the song (not frequently - but its not unknown). However, we're there to worship and to encourage worship, not to make a recording. I think that a foundation of listening, preparation and obedience, coupled with boldness to sing like we mean it on the day (and to mean it, even when we sometimes fail at the singing bit) add up to an acceptable offering.
I tend not to seek out the theme that will be preached about, but suprisingly often there is a unity between them - whether a shared theme or two that work in harmonious counterpoint.
In my opinion, and I'm convinced that my foundations are firmly biblical on this, obedient service, motivated by love and using our God-given gifts is what it's all about and neither sermon nor singing mean a thing without this (qv. 1 Corinthians 13:1ff).
Wulf F-B, January 2002
Footnote (July 2002): I saw the following story posted on Churchbass this month and thought it neatly illustrated the reason why I believe in doing some advance preparation:
Pastoral students where presenting sermons as part of their final evaluation before entering the call process and assuming a position with a congregation. One student's sermon was so unorganized and pointless that it prompted a professor to ask how he had prepared the sermon. The student responded that he hadn't prepared; he relied on the Holy Spirit to provide the words to him upon reaching the pulpit. The professor exclaimed, "Don't you think the Holy Spirit can find you in your study?"