Aug 20, 2013

Impression or Information: What Is Your Objective in Preaching?

When you preach do you preach primarily to impart information to your listeners or to make an impact and impression on your listeners?

This is an important question, the answer to which may reveal what you truly believe about the purpose of preaching.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones weighs in on this question while discussing the preaching of Jonathan Edwards.

The first and primary object of preaching… is to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently… Edwards, in my opinion, has the true notion of preaching. It is not primarily to impart information; and while [the listeners are taking] notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit. As preachers we must not forget this. We are not merely imparters of information. We should tell our people to read certain books themselves and get the information there. The business of preaching is to make such knowledge live. . . . What we need above everything else today is moving, passionate, powerful preaching. It must be ‘warm’ and it must be ‘earnest’. (“Jonathan Edwards and the Crucial Importance of Revival,” in The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, 360, emphasis mine)

Here’s what Edwards himself writes about the matter:

The main benefit obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind at the time, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered. And though an after-remembrance of what was heard in a sermon is oftentimes very profitable; yet, for the most part, that remembrance is from an impression the words made on the heart at the time; and the memory profits, as it renews and increases that impression. (Vol. 1, 394, emphasis mine)

I think this is an important issue that needs to be discussed, and here are some of the relevant questions related to the discussion.

  1. What is the proper relationship between information and impact in preaching?
  2. How concerned should preachers be that their listeners remember and retain the information presented in a sermon?
  3. Should we encourage our listeners to take notes while we preach? Does this encourage an informational view of preaching?
  4. Should an expository series through a book of the Bible consist of individually-packaged, self-contained sermons, or is it okay for one sermon to bleed into the next?
  5. Should we view preaching primarily in terms of content or as an event?
  6. Should our objective in preaching be shaped to some degree by the occasion or setting of our preaching?
  7. What is the measure of a successful sermon?
  8. In what sense, if any, should the preacher view himself as a teacher?
  9. Does biblical exposition consist primarily of providing commentary on the text along with pertinent historical and cultural background information?
  10. What is the place of rhetoric in preaching? How much attention should preachers give to their rhetorical strategies?
  11. What difference does one’s view on this issue make in terms of delivery and style in preaching?

My concern is that those who are committed to expository preaching (unpacking the text in its context) often lack a clear and forceful purpose for communicating all that good exegetical and contextual information.

Are we asking ourselves on a regular basis “Why am I giving people this information? What effect or impact do I hope it has on the way they think, feel, and act?”

And then, just how passionate am I that people respond biblically to this information? If I am seeking to impact my audience with the truth, I cannot be like the mailman who delivers the mail but doesn’t really care if anyone reads it. He simply delivers the goods. If he manages to get the right mail in the right box, he’s done his job successfully.

Preachers who are seeking to make an impression with the truth, on the other hand, are not content until the mail is delivered faithfully and read and understood and responded to.

Question: How would you answer one or more of the questions above?

Related Post:

Preaching to Impress: Conveying a Superlative Sense of God’s Glory