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Have you ever thought about the economics of preaching?
If you were to take a moment to think about the value we ascribe to the action of preaching in the American church, you may start to wonder if we’ve overvalued it.
Think about it from an organizational economics perspective.
- The Sunday morning sermon is seen as the single most important activity in the action of the American Protestant week.
- Take away the sermon and you wouldn’t call it a worship service.
- If you don’t have anyone to preach you may think about canceling church. You couldn’t say that about any other element of the standard worship service. (Music, public reading of the Bible, receiving offerings, testimonials, etc.)
- Ask anyone in the pews what the most important qualification for a senior leader is? Preaching.
- In many contexts the title “preacher” is a suitable substitute for the more proper title of pastor, elder, or overseer. But the connotation is clear, the main value in the senior leader is his/her ability to preach. I’ve never heard a pastor’s title swapped out to “host” or “Mr. Gentle.”
- If a person isn’t a good preacher, even if they are good at a lot of other things, they don’t have a reasonably good chance of a career as a senior leader.
- When a church grows, most often it’s because people say the church has a great preacher.
- When a church dies most people blame the preaching.
- People will put up with a lot from a pastor if that same person delivers good sermons.
- Organizationally, you could argue that the Sunday morning message is the fulcrum for the whole organization.
- Want to launch a new initiative? You better preach about it.
- Want to address an issue in the congregation? You guessed it, the sermon is the best way.
Think about it from a monetary economics perspective.
- The senior pastor makes the most money in most churches.
- The one activity the senior pastor works the most consistently on? Preaching.
- The highest employed staff person’s most important task, the one task costing the most amount of money per hour to the church? Preaching.
- 30 minutes of speaking costs the church at about 25% of their highest paid employees time.
- You’ll pay the drummer $75. But the pastor? We don’t disclose that.
A hermeneutics problem.
You cannot argue, hermeneutically, that the New Testament values preaching to the level the American church places on it. When Paul gave Timothy qualifications for overseers he didn’t give special attention to preaching. “Able to teach” is one of 14 the qualifications listed. Preaching, specifically, is not mentioned. (Able to teach could mean a lot of things.)
If anything is emphasized by Paul it is matters of personal character. You cannot argue by Paul’s emphasis or in his order that we should value an overseer purely by his/her ability to preach. “Able to teach” is buried in the middle. If it were first on the list you could say Paul was emphasizing it. If it were mentioned twice, likewise. But stuck in the middle of a phrase like that? It’s just one of the regular qualifications.
Yet, in America we value preaching above all else. Think about it from an governance perspective. Your church could have 6 elders and 1 of them is the senior pastor. The primary difference in that person’s organizational responsibilities compared to the rest? Preaching. In most cases, the other 5 elders wouldn’t even consider payment for their service. But the preaching elder? You have to pay that person.
Here’s what we know. (We could each point to specific examples) If a person is a good preacher we will choose to overlook obvious character flaws. Even flaws that clearly disqualify a person from the role of overseer.
The over-valuation of preaching in the American Protestant church is a classic example of syncretism.
And this one syncretism is a primary feeder for our denial of the priesthood of all believers. When you over-value preaching… you’ve created a new priesthood.
Question 1: What does it reveal about our view of God to over-emphasize the role of preaching in the local church?
Question 2: If we didn’t have regular weekly preaching what would our gatherings look like?