John Stott confessed to being “an impenitent believer in the indispensable necessity of preaching both for evangelism and for the healthy growth of the church. The contemporary situation makes preaching more difficult; it does not make it less necessary.”
Statements like that resonate with pastors who are responsible for the pulpit. It reminds them of the glad and weighty burden of preaching, particularly as it intersects with the health and growth of the church. Even a cursory reading of Acts reveals preaching as the vanguard element of Paul’s church-planting strategy (Acts 9:20; 13:5; 13:16, 44; 14:1, 6).
This isn’t to say other foundational issues, such as organizing leadership structures (Acts 14:22–23; cf. Titus 1:5), were unimportant to the apostle; it simply highlights the primacy and priority of preaching in planting churches.
Indeed, I would argue preaching is the sine qua non of church planting. While there are many things a young church plant can overcome in order to establish itself, poor preaching isn’t one of them. A weak pulpit ministry is almost always a recipe for congregational demise. Good church plants need good preaching.
While there are many things a young church plant can overcome in order to establish itself, poor preaching isn’t one of them.
While there are many reasons for this view, I will highlight two: the first related to those outside your congregation, the other with those inside.
Newcomers will evaluate your church primarily on the basis of the preaching.
Speaking pragmatically, conventional wisdom says that in order for a church plant to better reach contemporary culture, it must have the trifecta of good preaching, good music, and a good children’s ministry. This is not to say you must like that answer (I don’t particularly), but things become truisms for a reason.
Giving heed to this kind of thinking doesn’t necessarily make one a sellout. It might simply mean someone is culturally aware and seeking to harness the wind instead of cursing it.
If your church-plant philosophy has an attractional element (even in a remote sense) tied to the corporate worship service, then preaching will be of primary importance. It is as much a “front door” element of your fledgling congregation as anything else.
Preaching is a “first impression” element to your corporate worship service. That is why newcomers will often evaluate whether they want join this new work based on what happens in the pulpit. And while the weight given to the preaching event may make us uncomfortable, it is nonetheless one of the main ways people will evaluate your church.
Yet should this feedback be so surprising? A church plant, by definition, has no community history (and in many cases no denominational identity), nor a regional reputation that people can use as a relational reference point. She’s the “new kid” in town.
Therefore, not only is a church plant trying to reach outsiders; it is itself, in a community sense, an outsider too. That’s why excellent sermons are so important. Your preaching is their test case, their living example of what your church claims to be about. And that’s why you need to do it well.
The pulpit is the most effective place where blossoming congregations not only see what the church believes about certain doctrines but, just as importantly, how they apply those doctrines. People enter the doors holding all kinds of assumptions about what a church is and how a church should act.
The pulpit ministry, then, is a catalytic instrument whereby the preacher explains how this church intends to embody its theology:
- When we say complementarian, this is what we mean . . .
- When we say we believe in God’s sovereignty in salvation, this is how that looks for us . . .
- When we say we’re missional, this is how that value surfaces in this body . . .
The pulpit ministry also serves as catechesis for congregants—including current and future ministry leaders. With each sermon, people are being corporately discipled not only in what the church believes but expressly how the church believes it.
The preacher is helping train congregants in both what they are to know and how they are to feel about what they know.
The preacher, in his preaching, is helping train congregants in both what they are to know and how they are to feel about what they know. This kind of congregational formation—head and heart—is absolutely foundational for young church plants.
Make This the Year
For these reasons I am wholeheartedly, like Stott, “an impenitent believer in the indispensable necessity of preaching” for the health of any church.
I know the challenge. With the whirlwind of activity that planting a church entails—the constant pressure of teams to build, strategies to employ, people to shepherd, and a thousand other needs calling for the planter’s time and energy—it’s easy to push developing your preaching to the back-burner.
Don’t let that happen. Let this year be the one where you work on becoming a better preacher. Read a few books about preaching. Start or join a preaching cohort with other pastors where you regularly give and receive feedback. Attend a conference that specifically addresses preaching issues. You could even find an older, more experienced pastor to give you some pulpit coaching.
Whatever you do, aim to invest in specific things that will improve your homiletical skills for your sake and the sake of your new flock.
Why? Because good preaching is essential to planting your church.