Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

In a recent ChristianityToday article titled, “Flipping the 40-Minute Sermon,” the author’s argu-ment goes like this: attention spans have shriveled, and what we think of as a sermonic monologue should be split up, and pastors actually do their main teaching online in bite-sized segments throughout the week, and use the gathered church on Sundays as a place to foster personal inter-action and fellowship. Pastor John, what do you think of flipping the 40-minute sermon, of mak-ing the sermon less significant, or insignificant, on Sundays?

Well, interesting that you should ask that, because Bob Glenn, my friend out at Redeemer Bible Church sent me a notice about this article, so I read it and he wanted to know what I thought. And I had just, in fact, listened to a 40 minute, a great 40 minute message from Bob {?} so I could see why he was con-cerned about this.

I wrote him. I said, “This suggestion rolls around every 20 years or so. Oh, poor sermon, on life support. The sermon’s days are numbered. Let’s all get participatory.” I get weary, frankly, of these kinds of suggestions for sermons. But here is the main problem. The author of that article, I think, is committing a category confusion. She was comparing the sermon to the lecture method of teaching in a college class compared to what happens in a more Socratic or participatory method. And I agree with that. I think that is exactly right. When I teach in college or in seminary, I don’t want to mainly lecture. I want to teach by forcing students to ask questions, to think for themselves. But here is the catch. The sermon in the context of worship is not a lecture. Worship is not a classroom. The category for thinking about it is not pedagogical. It is not educative. Those are secondary. Pedagogy and education are secondary in the worship service. The category is supernatural encounter with the living God as the preacher worships over the Word and draws the people into an experience of God almighty through his proclamation. That is the category. And if you try to just replace that category with a lecture category then her argument is going to make sense. All we are trying to do here is improve people’s understanding of some theological truths. Well, that is just not the main point of preaching. So the first aim of preaching is not first educa-tion, but encounter. 2 Timothy 4:2 says to Timothy, “Preach the word.” And the context is one of wor-ship there. It is one of the people of God, not just proclamation to the world, but the people of God, keruxon ton logon. And a kerux is not a teacher. A kerux is a herald, a town crier. So sermons are hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, the King of the universe has a message. Everyone who bows the knee to him will be forgiven all their sins and there will be a treaty and they will be free to be a part of the King’s kingdom evermore. You announce. You don’t first explain.

Now if a little child comes up to you and says, “I don’t know what the word treaty means,” then you are going to explain that and you might explain it in the sermon itself, but the explanation is secondary. The announcement, the heralding, the proclamation of the living God, calling his people to the fullest enjoy-ment of his kingdom is the main purpose of the sermon. I call it expository exultation. That is with a U, exultation. I am exulting in God over his Word and I am drawing people into my exultation over the truth that I am preaching.

And there are other times, Tony, in the Church when what this author was commending is exactly what should happen. There should be lots and lots of discussion and lots of provocative back and forth and lots of testing and proving and wrestling and struggling. That is what classes are for and seminars are for and conferences are for and small groups are for. And it is just sad that anyone would suggest that this one hour or hour and a half a week in which we as a collective people gather to stand before the living God and lift our voices in praise to him, confess our sins and hear him powerfully address us through the voice of an anointed person, that that would be replaced somehow by all the other good things that are happening in the Church. So my response is let preaching be preaching. Let it be expository exaltation, a profound meeting with the living God.

Good. And so does that mean there’s something missing when we listen to a 40-minute sermon through ear buds, and we are not with the gather local church.

It is in part, but I would say this. The nature of that expository exultation does not cease to be that when it is listened to on the Internet. It still is that and a person can be drawn into that kind of heralding. Yes, you can’t reproduce the actual collection of the people of God gathered in that moment of worship there, but that doesn’t mean that the only kind of communication that should happen through the internet is a more teaching or pedagogically back and forth kind of effort, because expository exultation really is a man in a worship setting exulting, worshipping over a text. And that kind of encounter with the living God can come through that medium.

Thank you Pastor John. And thank you for listening to this podcast. If you have questions, please email those to us at askpastorjohn AT desiringgod DOT org. At desiringgod DOT org you will find thousands of other free resources from John Piper. … I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening.