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Why do you preach? 4 relational perspectives

March 22, 2016 | by Allen Hamlin

If you’ve attended worship at any variety of denominational congregations, it’s readily apparent that the sermon is a major facet of the gathering. In the Anglican church that I attend, the entire service is barely over an hour, with the message usually lasting less than 15 minutes. In many non-liturgical contemporary churches, it’s not uncommon to find the preaching time lasting 35-45 minutes or more.

With all of this investment—time, energy, and attention—in the proclamation of God’s Word, how often have you paused to consider why you preach? There are a great many theological answers that could be offered as to why you are motivated to expound the Scriptures, but my thoughts have recently turned to some of the more relational motivations that may lay behind our preaching.

Preaching can achieve a number of outcomes, and it is a significant aspect of the office of pastor/elder. As I consider it, some people preach to inform, some to lead, some to relate, and others to shepherd. These are not mutually exclusive motives, but they all take our theological motivations and place them in the context of our relationship to our hearers.

Preach to inform.

Perhaps the least relational mode of expression, preaching to inform is most concerned with conveying knowledge, building an awareness of the content of the text. Application will also likely be presented, but the personhood of the preacher is fundamentally a non-issue in this approach. Even if personal stories are shared, they are only offered as illustrations to facilitate understanding of the Scriptural content. Learning is the goal, with the preacher seeing himself merely as a conduit, hoping that the audience attaches themselves to the information and not to himself.

Preach to lead.

A leader cannot be silent. In order to fulfill an office of leadership, there must be communication. There must be perspective shared, vision cast, questions asked. While the functions of leadership often take place away from the pulpit, time spent preaching is vital for building one’s platform as a leader, connecting with the congregants. A sermon is a key time for hearers to get to know their leader, assessing his personal qualities and virtues even apart from the content of his biblical message. In order for there to be authentic and excellent followership in response to a pastor’s mid-week work, there must be an opportunity to witness his presence in front of the larger group.

When I see videos of CEOs addressing a significant number of their corporate staff in a sizable auditorium, I think about the expense that such an event requires: transporting all those employees to the venue and lost productivity as many people take half a day off to be in attendance. But those addresses are vital for establishing, maintaining, and growing a leader’s leadership and the followers’ followership. Pastors may be seen as fortunate: they have a corporate gathering every week that can provide a valuable point of leader-follower connection.

Preach to relate.

Relationship requires communication. Apart from the nature of any particular leadership role, an audience forms a connection with someone that addresses them. I recall giving my high school’s valedictory address; after making some self-deprecating remarks, I heard a young lady far back in the 6000-member audience yell out, “We love you, baby!” I have no idea who she was, but my speaking from the front opened the doorway for some seeds of relationship—for empathy, understanding, and response.

There is an acknowledgement of humanity that takes place when a live person, a warm body, stands up and speaks. Even if the message is read verbatim from a printed manuscript, it’s a different experience than reading the same words silently to oneself from a published book. Preaching establishes the preacher as a person, and simultaneously helps to remind him that the membership roll and attendance figures are filled by real people too.

Preach to shepherd.

Sheep need to learn the shepherd’s voice if they have any hope of following him, of being tended by him, of receiving the benefit of his care and protection. Without familiarity, any words from such a shepherd are easily disregarded, drowned out by the other vibrations of life. In John 10, Jesus makes it clear that sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice is what enables them to follow, to respond, to experience the height of intimacy with Himself. In contrast, a silent shepherd may just as well be a uncaring tree, or worse, a thief.

I have worked with a large number of people involved in a variety of pastoral care-based ministries. It strikes me that the ones that have been active in engaging with people, asking questions one-on-one as well as offering group workshops and seminars, are the ones deemed to be good at what they do. On the other hand, there are some people in pastoral care roles that are relatively silent, happily available in the background, but not particular vocal or involved. Polite comments may describe them as being good listeners, but few will label such people as providing excellent care.

Presence in a group creates the opportunity to be present one-on-one. We have numerous accounts of Jesus interacting with groups, and these create the foundation for us to engage with Him one-on-one. We get to know Him publicly as a way to get to know Him personally. And that model can work for our peer relationships as well, meeting one another as the Body even before we fully see and appreciate each other as individual and unique Body parts.

So why do you preach? Which of the above elements motivate you, and most color your preaching? And in which of these categories might your congregation need a little more from you, in order to create the most life-giving, God-glorifying leader-follower dynamic in your church?


Allen Hamlin
Allen Hamlin has served overseas since 2006, and provides team building consultation around the world. He currently lives in Wales, and oversees ministries in the southern UK. He is the author of Embracing Followership (Kirkdale Press; Feb 2016).

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