Prevalent among us is a skepticism about the value of the conventional forms of ministry -- especially preaching. I concur in this skepticism.
The weakness of preaching stems from its wordiness and monological character. The centuries have been filled with words about Christ. When one stops to think about the volume of words one develops; a sense of horror -- words, words, words; words about words, words undoing words; words for the sake of words; words slashing like a blinding blizzard into the face of the world. And at last the world is beginning to cry, "Stop! We can’t stand more words. Your words are empty because they are not reinforced by actions that give them authenticity."
But preaching does have power when it is dialogical, when preacher and people become partners in the discernment and proclamation by word and action of the Word of God in response to the issues of our day. Once again the word must become flesh; men must be able to see it as well as hear it.
Giving the word flesh is both the purpose of this book and the task of the church in today’s world. The word of the professional preacher by itself is no longer, if it ever was, enough. Men will not hear the conventional sermon. They must see the word acted out; and they themselves must act out the word for others to see. But such action must follow a determined struggle by laity and clergy together to search out the meaning of God’s Word for our time.
The church’s preaching is a concern for both clergy and laity. Some parts of this book will focus on the layman’s role and others on the clergy’s part. But each should read the other’s parts. Laymen who have responsibility in the church’s preaching need to know and understand the ordained preacher’s task; and the ordained preacher needs to know and understand the layman’s responsibility for the church’s preaching. In this way the function of each will complement that of the other. The theme of this book is the whole church’s responsibility for making known the Word of God. Out of this joint effort a new kind of preaching will appear.
The insights of this book were born out of discussions with clergy and laity at the Institute for Advanced Pastoral Studies about the problems and possibilities of the church’s preaching. In an earlier form these chapters were the Princeton Seminary Alumni Lectures, delivered in September, 1965. I am indebted to all the people who have participated in these discussions for the help and encouragement that they gave me in the formulation of the thesis that I now present.