Disclaimer – I am a big fan of expository preaching, and do not believe it is a pointless task. I ask this only because I’m wrestling with how to construct and deliver sermons. I’m used to the style that packages a Biblical text into a nice and neat 25 minute speech, complete with nice picturesque illustration (or, human interest accounts, for the homiletically well-versed), but find myself drawn to preachers like Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll (who quite affectionately referred to a 25-minute sermon as an “introduction”) who sometimes seem to just open up the Bible and “talk it out”.
Yet, I can see and understand the opposite spectrum that says that passive listening is the least effective form of delivery for transformation – which is after all the aim of Biblical, Expository Preaching.
So what is the best way to communicate God’s Word from the pulpit (or music stand, coffee table, whatever you use)? I found this post a bit interesting in teasing out some of these thoughts. Here’s something that stood out to me as interesting, and you tell me if it has any merit.
What I have since discovered is that lecturing a passive audience for 20 to 40 minutes, what Doug Pagitt calls “speeching,” has been repeatedly proven to result in a very low retention of content. Likewise, adult education experts testify, along with a multitude of unregenerate pew sitters, that passive learning rarely transforms values. Does this mean we should abandon instruction in the church? Of course not. After all, we are commissioned to teach people to obey everything Christ commanded. It simply means traditional preaching is not the best medium for skill training and instruction.
But preaching is wonderfully designed for the prerequisite component of Willard’s spiritual formation model—vision. Preaching this way will not always have the end goal of application, but rather inspiration. As Willard says, “It’s the beauty of the kingdom that Jesus said was causing people to climb over each other just to get in.” Only after people have a vision of God (the love, beauty, justice, and power of his kingdom) will they be ready to intentionally seek and employ the means to experience him through obedience—an aspect of spiritual formation that occurs most effectively in smaller settings through the medium of relationship.