Why we meet: The centrality of Preaching

Why should we preach at all? Pentecostal and charismatic churches today make 'worship' central to their meetings, and tack-on-the-end sermons have increasingly suffered from a shift in emphasis and purpose. They serve to 'charge up' Christian motivation, or sell a vision for the future direction of the church, or explain keys to successful Christian living--anything but the bold and accurate declaration of the message of God as written from Genesis to the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The New Testament never gives 'worship' as a reason why Christians should gather together at all. But it does teach that Christians should meet together for edification and fellowship. We should meet to build one another up in faith and share in our common-union with Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25). But how do we build each other up as Christians? The answer highlights the importance of preaching within Christianity and our church meetings: it is through speaking God’s word to one another that we grow up into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

Preaching as God's idea

Preaching is God’s idea. Preaching didn’t evolve out of history. It isn’t the idea or invention of people. It isn't something the church came up with as a contemporary means of communication. It actually was the plan that God had for the church. Preaching is completely characteristic of Christianity.


Jesus used preaching as the central point to his ministry. The evangelists present Jesus as having been first and foremost an itinerant preacher (Mark 1:14). This was Jesus’ own understanding of his mission at that period (Luke 4:18). He acknowledged that the Spirit of God was on him to preach: “The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news.” During his life Jesus sent his apostles out to preach to Israel (Mark 3:14), and after his resurrection he solemnly commissioned them to preach the gospel to the nations (Matthew 28:19), and this is exactly what they did (Mark 16:20).

The Apostles

The apostles gave priority to the ministry of preaching (Acts 6:4), since it was to this that Jesus had primarily called them. It appears that reading the Scriptures at Christian gatherings (e.g. Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 3:14), followed by Bible exposition (Acts 20:7) was preserved as a custom in synagogues, and taken over and Christianized by the apostles (Acts 13:14-43). And the Apostles continued to pass on the baton to others. To start with, they were not the only ones that preached in the first century. Philip (Acts 8:5) and Barnabas (Acts 13:2, 5) are two famous examples. Paul passed his commission to preach on to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1, 2). He also instructed Timothy to continue passing on this responsibility to teach God’s Word onto others (2 Timothy 2:1). The Apostles taught that preaching was God’s appointed way by which sinners would hear of the Savior and so call on him for salvation (1 Corinthans 1:17-21; 9:16; Romans 10:14,15).

Church history

Preaching and teaching God’s Word continued to be a predominant emphasis among the early church fathers, and using this as its means, in 3 centuries alone, the Church brought the Roman empire to its knees. And preaching has continued to be a predominant emphasis of the Church right down through all of Church history: 'Since the early Church era, the quality of preaching and the spirit and life of the church have advanced or declined together' (Stott, 1982).

What is preaching

To 'expound' the Scriptures is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it, rather than ‘imposition’, which is to impose on the text what is not there. But preaching is more than exposition, for otherwise preaching would not necessarily have any application to our contemporary lives. Preaching is more than communication. Preaching involves communication, however there is no other form of communication which resembles it and could replace it because each component is special, making this type of communication unique: the Preacher is a servant of God who speaks God's words, as God's word, to God's people, knowing that God himself is speaking through his words to his people.

The Bible itself uses a variety of images to illustrate what Christian preaching is. The commonest is the 'herald' (or 'town crier'), who has been given a message of good news to proclaim. Two of Paul’s most direct descriptions of his evangelistic preaching are “we herald Christ crucified” and “we herald... Jesus Christ as Lord” (1 Corinthains 1:23; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Isaiah 52:7).

Other metaphors the Bible gives to illustrate the role of a preacher of God’s Word are 'sower' (Luke 8:4-15), 'ambassador' (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20), 'fellow worker' (2 Corinthians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 3:6-9), 'steward' or 'housekeeper' (1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 1Tim 3:4-5; Tit 1:7), 'pastor' or 'shepherd' (John 21:15; Acts 20:28-31; Cf. Ezekiel 34), and 'workman' (2 Timothy 2:15).

The preacher goes out into the world, like a farmer into his fields, spreading the precious seed of God’s Word, praying that some of it will fall into well-prepared soil and in time bear good fruit. The preacher has been commissioned to serve as an envoy in a foreign–even hostile–world. He has the responsibility of representing the sovereign Government he represents, whose cause he is proud to plead. The preacher is partnering with God in the work of God. He is a co-worker: He has a role to play, and God has a role to play, and together the job will get done. The preacher is privileged to have been put in charge of God’s household and entrusted with the provision they need: God’s revealed secrets. He is expected above all to be faithful in dispensing them to God’s family. The preacher is an under-shepherd of the Chief Shepherd, to whom he has delegated the care of his flock and who he has charged to protect them from wolves (false teachers) and lead them to good pasture (sound teaching). The kind of preacher who is approved in God’s sight is the workman who is skilful in his treatment of the word of truth. He correctly handles the Bible.

Contemporary objections

Preaching in our contemporary age has its challenges. Society has for decades now seen preaching as a ‘dying art’, an outmoded form of communication, a ‘relic from the past’. The 'anti-authority' culture that seeks ‘true freedom’ sees preaching as a symbol of the authority that it rejects. People have their own opinions and convictions, which they at the very least consider to be equally valid to the preacher's; a preacher has no right to lay down his message as 'law' on another, or frame his message in absolute terms as 'truth', let alone assume to speak as one with the 'words of God'.

The Scriptures teach that fallen mankind can only find fulfillment in the context of authority. Unlimited freedom is an illusion. The mind is free only under the authority of the truth, and the will under the authority of righteousness. We believe not what we have invented but what God has revealed. This gives us authority. Preachers are trustees of divine revelation (1 Corinthians 4:1). A sermon by very nature is a revelation, not an exhortation. The Word of God is the authority. The authority with which we preach is inherent neither in us as individuals, nor primarily in our office as a preacher, nor even in the church whose members and accredited pastors we may be, but supremely in the Word of God which we expound. But it is not enough for us to make pronouncements of authority. Preachers need to argue the reasonableness and demonstrate the relevance of God's word. When a message 'rings true' and is seen to relate correctly with human reality, it carries its own authority, and authenticates itself.

The contemporary loss of confidence in the gospel is the most basic of all hindrances to preaching. To preach is to publicly proclaim a message, while to ‘evangelize’ is to spread the good news. Both presuppose that we have been given something to say. Without a clear and confident message preaching is impossible. Yet it is precisely this that Pentecostalism increasingly lacks. Much charismatic preaching today is ‘speaking’ not preaching: encouraging motivation, explaining practical insights, proclaiming speculations, giving opinions, expounding views, declaring the preacher's beliefs.

Preaching as essential

Preaching is a distinguishing feature of Christianity. It is essential to Christianity; it is a necessary and authentic part of it. Christianity is a religion of the Word of God. It revolves around the fact that God has revealed himself by his own initiative to fallen humanity, and his self revelation is given to us in the most straightforward means of communication known to people--by words. God spoke through the prophets and instructed them to convey his message to Israel by speech and writing. Supremely, he has spoken in his Son, who is his "Word made flesh", whether directly or through his apostles. God's word comes to us by the Holy Spirit, who bears witness to Christ and to the Scriptures, and who enables us to accept it as God's Word.

It is God’s speech that makes our speech necessary. Those who have heard and believed God’s Word are to speak it to others. We must speak what he has spoken - this is the Christian obligation to preach.

Needed: A recovery of preaching

What is needed within Pentecostalism is a recovery of conviction in the essence and importance of preaching. Pentecostals need to regain confidence in the truth, relevance and power of the message of the Bible--the gospel. Preaching is not motivational speaking, it is not the proclamation of new ideas, or the discussion of key issues. Preaching is the declaration of the Word, the truth as it has been revealed in the Bible.


Stott, John. I believe in Preaching, Hodder and Stoughton, 1982. | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.