How Does Sunday Preaching Affect Your Sanctification?

I was recently asked this question from a friend and would love you hear your response:

What role would you say that listening to sermons has played in your sanctification and growth in godliness? Particularly, the sermons you listen to each Sunday at your local church.

My response:

To answer your question – I would say that the preached word on Sunday morning has had comparatively little significant impact that I can recall. “That I can recall” I think is an important qualifier. Has it had an impact? Sure it has, but I can only specifically remember a few sermons that I can say, “wow, that impacted me”.

I think perhaps a lot of the positive effect is through a kind of constant “soaking” of the word through good Bible teachers (much like we do in our own Bible study). One is not really cognizant of it having an impact, but it does for sure. To what degree? I’m not really sure.

But the overwhelming thing I think about in terms of my own personal spiritual growth is my time in the word and prayer, my own personal teaching of the word, serving, and relationships where older believers have invested in me.

Jesus did a lot of sermon like teaching, but it seems like it was always in the context of relationships, life on life. This is partly why I am leaning towards smaller church ecclesiology. I have only worked in big churches and have grow to see the draw back of how impersonal it can be.

My executive pastor tells me about how he has asked this same question to many many people over the course of his years and he has told me that he has never once has someone say that the preached word on Sunday was the #1 thing that contributed to their sanctification. Should we throw out the preached word on Sunday? Never, the Biblical emphasis on preaching is too strong, but I think it is good to challenge and question our current modes of ecclesiology since the NT gives very few rules for how our worship service is to be conducted.

It’s easy to see how we got here…

(years are rough)
500-1500 – Catholic church dominates and there is a thousand year void (for the most part) of any solid, accessible, gospel preaching for the lay person

1500 – Reformation takes place – Luther and Calvin and others push back really hard on this and greatly emphasize the preached word for the lay person.

We still are reaping the benefits of this today, but I would say that I think it has, in our current culture, created churches full of spectators that I don’t see in the NT for the church. As Greg often says, we have so many different structured contexts for listening, but we have very few structured contexts for serving and doing. This is a problem. Both should be mandatory. But in our culture, the listening is mandatory and the doing is not. Big problem in my view.

This is really hard stuff. There are no hard preaching rules in the Bible for the amount or the form. I would personally like to see structured elevation of the preached word in the context of home groups by qualified teachers.

Just my first reaction, knee-jerk response… Take it for what it’s worth.


7 responses to “How Does Sunday Preaching Affect Your Sanctification?

  1. I think I’ll cautiously disagree: yes, American Christians *are * spectators most of the time who sit in churches that look like theaters to hear “preaching” that is theatrical with productions that are theatrical. Yet, the word of God is the sword of the Spirit—the sanctifying of God’s people is,in one major sense, God’s work through the gospel, what Calvin calls the “double grace” of Christ:

    I believe I have already explained above, with sufficient care, how for men cursed under the law there remains, in faith, one sole means of recovering salvation. I believe I have also explained what faith itself is, and those benefits of God which it confers upon man, and the fruits it brings forth in him. Let us sum these up. Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life. (Inst. III.11.1)

    Doing and serving are, I think, evidences of our justification and sanctification (both positional and progressive). That may seem a bit odd, but in my opinion it is more accurate to state the bases this way. That helps me understand what the preaching and sacraments/ordinances are doing on Sunday morning rather than beginning with my experience. The nature of the New Covenant seems to be one of unconditional work on God’s part to affect all of his purposes in his people, and that has mainly been through the foolishness of the preached word of God by his church.

    This of course happens in one-on-one relationships, but the main place exposition and understanding ought to take place is the hermeneutical community of the church. I think this holds whether we know it experientially or not. Thoughts?

  2. Matt,

    Good comments – I think I agree with what you are saying, but I’m not sure you have addressed the form that our current church culture has embraced. Do you think that is explicitly found in the Bible? Not that I am saying it is bad, but I think we have to say at some level it is our own construction.

    “This of course happens in one-on-one relationships, but the main place exposition and understanding ought to take place is the hermeneutical community of the church.”

    How does one support this statement Biblically?


  3. “Our own construction”…. not meaning the preaching of the gospel in general in it’s numerous forms, but our form of preaching in the church.

  4. One more qualifier:

    I think the preached word on Sunday mornings as most people experience it is a good thing and has had a significant impact on my life and sanctification. Please do hear that I am anti-Sunday morning preaching. I just don’t think we can make many ecclesiological laws about it’s form for Christians. If think we are in grave danger if we begin to idolize forms that God has not given us. I just don’t see the specifics (how long, when, style, etc) for preaching in the Bible. I could be wrong on this and am open to that.

  5. Jason Wells ( responds on the article posted in the comment section above:

    It’s hard to fit all of my criticisms of this article into a comment, but I’ll go ahead and sketch out why I say “No.”

    1. Monologue is not dead. Jay Leno continues to entertain us, presidential candidates continue to inspire us and Steve Jobs’s keynote addresses continue to excite us through the monologue. I’d like to see support for how this medium is as dead as the author says.

    2. Preaching is more than teaching. If your sermons are didactic only, then you are missing the point that the sermon is an echo of the Incarnation of Christ, whereby heavenly things and earthly things are joined in one place. To paraphrase Karl Barth, preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

    3. In a year, one can hear 52+ sermons with only a few being especially memorable. In a year, I eat probably 1000+ meals and only a few of them are memorable. Do I give up eating? Do quit cooking dreary meals for myself and dine out three times daily? No. I remain thankful for the daily bread that sustains body and soul.

    4. Biblical evidence does occur in Acts 20:7-12. Paul speaks all night to Christians gathered in a meeting room. This passage speaks so clearly about contemporary preaching that one listener falls asleep.

    5. It’s quite easy to throw stones. Few alternatives are offered and even fewer schemes to implement them. The worship schemes of every denomination, the curricula of our seminaries and the history of the church can all be discarded and replaced with a vaguely defined “group bible study.” The sermon preached among the Christian faithful has been with the church since at least Paul’s visit to Troas and there is not reason to abandon it now.

  6. Jason: A quick response now, I want to think more over the weekend and post another response next week. I do like your points, especially the parallel to eating (#3).

    #1 Is monologue “not dead”? Man its debatable to me, very much so. I’d argue more for it being dead than alive. In the 1800s speeches were, in some ways, what TV is today. Listening to speeches was not just learning, it was entertaining. That seems to have disappeared, in any context: live or recorded. iTunes, for instance (at least to my knowledge), doesn’t have any category for “famous speeches.” Let’s try to imagine how many would download famous speeches if it did. Even if Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech were up for free, how many would be interested? (I realize some of us may *not* point to that as a great speech, but substitute other example in for it if you like).

    Podcasts are to me quite different. In fact one podcast I subscribed to I’ve discontinued, simply because the person talked on and on and on.

    I realize many of you on this blog site like to listen to sermons online, but when we look at culture this is so rare. For my own kids (ages 21, 20, and 16) or any of their friends, Christian or non, I’ve never once seen one of them stop when surfing cables channels and listen to a speech.

    Jay Leno does not do a speech, its comedy, not all that long, and a string of smaller units. So let me say here its not so much “monologue” that I question but more the genre of “speeches.” Presidential candidates, as far as I can tell, and again this is with younger generations, seem to uninspire us rather than inspire us. And what interests younger generations, those who care, seem to be debates, which constists of a series of talk times probably too brief to be called “speeches,” or better yet, town meetings with Q&A.

    I don’t know that I can give you support that the medium is dead other than what I see around me.

    I’m not saying that I agree with this (that speeches are not very effective) or that its desirable, just that this is what I observe.

    #2 – agree

    #3 – a very interesting illustration. I agree that just because we don’t remember something, that doesn’t mean that particular thing was a waste of time, or even not the best use of time. Let me play with your illustration though. Let’s say someone comes along and tells me that there are different ways, from what I am used to, of getting nutrients, or “fuel,” or health (as in vitamins or minerals) for my body. Maybe its less meals a day, maybe more. Maybe food in a different packaging than what I am used to. Maybe more “green,” “whole,” or “organic,” maybe more created in a lab. At least I’d be interested in hearing about this. For instance, I’m sure I have a hamburger and fries at least once a month. If a trusted friend started urging me to look at completely discontinuing burgers and fries, I’d listen and be open to that.

    Those critiquing sermons are not saying “don’t get fed,” they’re questioning methodology. In fact if a Sunday morning sermon is like a meal – some will be memorable but most not, but almost all are necessary – then we could argue for what many Baptist churches in south do, that is, have 4 services a week where you hear a sermon (adult Sunday School, main service, Sunday evening service, and prayer service on Wed night that ends up being more like a regular service than one in which we pray a lot).

    The stuff being written against sermons (I’ve done some myself) is extremist, true. But often in church history we seem to have this Hegelian evolution: a thesis, an anti-thesis, and then something new that comes about, that *can* be a healthy corrective to a former extremism.

    #4 – that Paul preaches a long, long time is neither here nor there, since its descriptive and not prescriptive. The weight of evidence if we do look at descriptive data is almost all on the side of brevity – not 45-55 minute sermons as most Protestant churches engage in today. This is even more interesting in an age (first century) when, like the 1800s, speech giving was, unlike today, a very accepted and common method of communication. (Note: I’m not saying its not accepted today, just not common. Things like the State of the Union address, or an acceptance speech at a party’s national convention, are the exception and not the rule in terms of getting a national audience).

    #5 – agree completely that its easy to throw stones. But even if stones should not be thrown, I’d still want to learn why the thrower is throwing them. If a comment card that is a complaint card comes in to our church, and the person just seems bent on whining and criticizing (and not offering solutions), I still want to ask if there’s any truth behind his accusations.

    One thing I’d love to see the church involved in is a research, and then resurgence, of some of the kinds of orality that existed in the ancient world. Accessing memory, catechistic teaching, apprenticeship (not in terms of a trade but spiritual), and links of real and adopted families and kinships were a part of the context of “preaching” then. Also, preachers saw themselves as carrying on the (God revealed) thoughts of former preachers, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, or David. I have yet to read a decent book, let alone a good one, on what *biblical* preaching is (in essence and in practice). Yet there are, as the article Zach linked us to points out, 100s upon 100s of books that tell us how to preach a sermon.

    -Ron Giese

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