I am trying to carry out something of an in-depth study of Haddon Robinson’s approach to preaching. I think his style (while not my own preferred style at the level of exegesis or indeed delivery) is better than many who claim to follow it.
I have reached a part in his book when and where he talks about three worlds: the world of the Bible, the contemporary world, and significantly our own particular world of a church and congregation.
He writes this:
“A church has a postal code and stands near Fifth and Main in some town or city. The profound issues of the Bible and the ethical, philosophical, questions of our times assume different shapes in rural villages, in middle-class communities, or in the ghettoes of crowded cities. Ultimately, we do not address everyone; we speak to a particular people and call them by name. The Bible speaks of the gift of pastor-teacher (Eph. 4:11). This implies the two functions should be joined, or else an irrelevant exposition may emerge that reflects negatively on God. As one bewildered churchgoer expressed it, ‘The trouble is that God is like our minister: we don’t see him (sic!) during the week and we don’t understand him (sic!) on Sunday. J. M. Reu was on target when he wrote, ‘Preaching is fundamentally a part of the care of souls, and the care of souls involves a thorough understanding of the congregation’.” (Biblical Preaching, p. 74).
Okay, we might not go fully with his understanding of Eph. 4 nor the language (or you may) but I think Robinson is correct to highlight that indeed the primary nature of the preaching event is “local” and “particular”. To be sure there can be preaching intended for wider audiences etc. but that is derivative of something more ‘incarnated’ as a live event in a particular space and time.
Local pastors are not competing with the podcast starts – who are secondary – they are delivering the primary. They are doing something that the podcast preachers cannot.
This being the case, however, does not get us off the hook (terrible phrase) but puts us firmly on it to do and be the best we can in relation to our congregations in and through the preaching event. This is why time and efforts requires to constantly be invested in enhancing the practice as a local live event.
Of course, there are sermons and speeches and talks that manage to sustain interest through time and space but as with many of Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons what gives them their longevity is the knowledge of the particular context in which they took place.
So local pastors preach in context …
I want to repeat from a previous post the ‘tweets of James K Smith from 24th June who comes out of a very different context from Robinson but suspect would have got a Robinson nod of approval for these statements:
‘How beautifully inefficient the Church is, a transnational web of localist nodes we call “congregations” in which thousands of people are unleashed every Sunday to bring God’s Word to life for *these* people in *this* place at *this* time. Preaching = localism.
This should be radically different from the bland hegemony of global consumerism that simply exports Starbucks or Stella Artois to everyone. Catholicity ≠ McDonaldization. The transcendence of revelation calls for scandalous localization. The Bible is preached in place.
Pastors and priests: forget the podcast and book contract. Don’t fall prey to the generic universalism of brand. Preach to the people in front of you: their heartbreak & hurts; their fears & doubts. Your congregation exists to be *local.*’