Where Has the Power Gone in Preaching?

Speaker at work and empty auditorium

My family underwent a major transition last year. Part of this transition has been finding a new church. We’ve visited multiple churches of varying sizes across different denominations. Throughout this search, one thing has consistently frustrated me.

I am frustrated by preaching. Modern preaching has lost its power. Sermons aren’t doing what they should in the lives of Christians or congregations anymore.

One reason for this is that sermons are too long. They typically last 40-45 minutes. Preachers feel free to blow past the ideal length of half an hour.

This would be bearable if it weren’t for their low Scripture content. Preachers treat sermons as an opportunity to share their opinions rather than the Word of God. They may sprinkle in a Bible verse here and there, but very little time is spent interacting with the Word.

This is probably because preaching has become a form of religious entertainment. Preachers devise clever series titles and sermon outlines, forcing the Bible to fit their own agenda. Churches use graphics, videos, and social media in their effort to “market” the Bible.

Which leads me to conclude preaching has lost its power.

Don’t misunderstand – I’m not saying the gospel has lost its power. The gospel is forever “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The gospel will never lose its power. But the way we preach the gospel has.

Think about it – has a sermon ever changed your life? Have you ever left church different? Truly, profoundly, permanently changed?

I understand that preaching’s power is cumulative. It is like a steady flow of water that erodes a landscape over time. But even so, shouldn’t we expect sermons to actually change us now and then? So why don’t they?

“I’m Not Being Fed”
Christians often complain, “I’m not ‘being fed’ at this church.” What they mean is the sermons aren’t helping them grow spiritually. Sermons are supposed to strengthen and nourish our faith, like food to the body. Peter tells us to “crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

In Amos’ day, God promised to “send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). We are in a similar time of famine. Not because God is withholding His Word from us, but because preachers are!

Paul tells Timothy, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). He charges Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Timothy’s job was simple – deliver God’s Word to His people.

That is the task of every preacher.

Power Comes from the Word
Unfortunately, preachers would rather give us their opinion than God’s Word. Their opinion might be based on God’s Word, but it is not God’s Word. Their thoughts may be biblical, but they are no substitute for the Bible.

It is “the Word of God,” not human opinion, that is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). It is “Scripture,” not human opinion, that is “God-breathed” and “useful” so we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Where has the power gone in preaching? It has been laid aside – next to the preacher’s Bible!

A Plea for the Word
If you are a preacher, please give us the Word. Don’t get me wrong – your thoughts are great. But nothing is better than the Word. So find other ways to express your thoughts (blog, podcast, etc.). And find ways to include more Scripture in your sermons.

Most people at your church are biblically illiterate. What they need is not in-depth analysis or extended application, but a larger sense of what God’s Word says. They need us to dump as much Bible on them as we can!

So don’t feel obligated to stop and explain so much. It’s okay for your sermons to include more Scripture and less personal thoughts. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read the entire passage before working through your outline. It helps to hear it read continuously before it is explained verse-by-verse.
  • Cover bigger passages in single sermons – like a whole chapter(s). Instead of explaining single verses, expound on significant themes.
  • Choose a reading plan for your church. Designate 5-10 minutes during each worship service to read the Bible together. If this takes away sermon time, so be it.

What I need is the Word. What your church needs is the Word. What the world needs is the Word.

So please, just give us the Word.

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