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Church Issues

Enough With the Singing and the Preaching

Looking at many churches in the PCA it’s fair to say that singing and preaching seem to be promoted above everything else, and I think that this is a potential problem. Maybe you are thinking “how are they promoted?” The answer is that we give the most time to the things we think are the most important, and in many churches the most time is connected to the sermon and the singing from the congregation.

Just consider the following break down of what I would consider the average PCA church (there was no formal study, I’m simply compiling the services I have seen on the last several years):

  • 20 minutes of singing
  • 30-45 minutes of preaching
  • >5 minutes of Scripture reading
  • 5 minutes of prayer
  • 10 Minutes for communion (but in most churches only once a month.)

We also need to understand that most churches have a spoken or unspoken social contract regarding the length of the service. Don’t believe me?, I dare you to decrease or increase the service by 30% and see what kind of responses you get. Either you’ll hear jokes that the sermon prep must have been short this week, or you’ll hear grumbling (from youth and adults alike) that the service seemed to drag on forever. Because of this loosely set length, there is only a certain amount of time that any element can receive.

Before making a decision about the value of this pattern, however, it might be good to examine some of the possible reasons that this happens.

First of all, much of the average church service is conducted by the pastor, and this means that he becomes the defacto time keeper. (While the pastor planed to only preach for 30 minutes, he included an extra illustration and all of a sudden the sermon is 35 minutes.)

Other times, pastors reemphasis the same idea several times, often in result of negative nonverbal feedback. This often causes us to stutter out toward the end of the sermon as we begin to hit deeper application. As a fellow pastor says we “had trouble landing the plane.”

I need to be honest here, I am guilty of every one of the above habits, but it’s something that I see as a major problem.

Secondly, I’d also wager that because the pastor is often the time keeper, when special elements arise (maybe a baptism, or a missionary giving a update), the sermon is the last thing to get trimmed down, and so while other elements shrink the sermon is still taking up 40-60% of the time.

When it comes to singing, it is often seen as the primary way that members of the congregation are actively participating in the worship. Because of this when a church is setting up their worship patterns, singing is given a lot of time, so that the people might have enough participation in the service.

So is this heavy emphasis on preaching and singing a bad thing? I’d say yes.

And it turns out so do the Westminster Divines. In fact, in the directory of worship in the section on public reading of Scripture they say the following about the importance of balancing of elements in a worship service:

“How large a portion shall be read at once is left to the discretion of every minister; and he may, when he thinks it expedient, expound any part of what is read; always having regard to the time, that neither reading, singing, praying, preaching, nor any other ordinance, be disproportionate the one to the other; nor the whole rendered too short, or too tedious.”

While this part of the Directory of Worship is not binding in the PCA, it is still helpful and “is an approved guide and should be taken seriously as the mind of the Church agreeable to the Standards.”- Preface to the Directory for Worship, Book of Church Order

I’d take from this statement the idea that when preparing a worship service, care should be taken to balance all of the elements of worship. Practically what this means is that, the sermon has to be tightened (not cut), and the singing reduced so that prayer, the reading of scripture, the giving of offerings, and the celebration of the sacraments can find their proper place in the church.

I must push a bit further here and say that if we truly take the above guidelines from the DOW to heart, many churches infrequent celebration of the Lord’s supper would need to be reexamined. It is entirely fair to say that the average church only gives the Supper two minutes on any given Sunday (10 minutes once every 4 weeks, means 2.5 minutes per week).

I know that there are some questions that arise out of my line of thought and let me try to address some of them.

Whats wrong about having a high view of preaching (It sounds like you are talking about demoting preaching)?

Nothing is wrong with preaching being one of the ordinary ways that God blesses his churches. But I’d suggest that if we rightly connect singing as well to the ordinary means of the Word, than that one mean wrongly demotes the sacraments and prayer. My concern is no removing preaching from its proper place but putting prayer and the sacraments back where they belong. I also understand that some people might argue that in an age where preaching is seen as unimportant it’s all the reason to spend more time emphasising it. To that I would argue that if you were sick from a lack of a vitamin C, the solution would not be to begin a vitamin C-only diet.

Whats wrong with a lot of singing?

While nothing is wrong with singing, I would argue that it is not the only way that members of the church should participate in the worship of God. There are other appropriate places where members of a congregation can participate, this includes both prayer and Scripture reading, the giving of offerings, and public professions of their faith.

Now I know that some readers might be offended by what I’m saying, while others are simply putting me into the “weak” camp in the PCA. Some of you are saying to yourself “my preaching takes as long as it takes.”

Let me say: I absolutely believe that preaching is a vital part of the life of the church, and the call to preach is a fire in our gut, that makes us say, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”. But I wonder if we often defend our preaching for less noble reasons. Deep down sometimes we preach longer for the sake of being seen as wise, or authoritative. We preach longer to calm the imaginary objections to our ministry. Some times we preach long because we haven’t been disciplined in the preparation or our text.

I’d also say that I doubt music leaders are guiltless when it comes to some of the less noble reasons why they increase their time in front of the congregation. We are all effected by sin.

When we elevate preaching and singing with tell our pastors that their sermons is the sum of their ministry, and we might even be subtly promoting the idea that bigger is better. It tends to reason that if a bigger church is preferred over a smaller one, and greater influence is preferred over lesser, then a long sermons is preferable to a short sermon, (After all are you gifted enough to preach for 45 minutes?). This puts damages pastoral ministry, It’s like saying that we are in shape if we can bench press 200 lbs while at the same time we are not able to stand on our own strength.

From a congregational perspective, I’d go as far to say that when we only have members sing (and give offerings) we in effect rob them of their full participation in the worship of God.

One Possible Way Forward

Without trying to suggest that I’ve solved the problem, let me share how we ended up trying to bring together the idea of not having one element out way the other elements.Our elders made the decision to have members more actively participate in the different elements of worships. Rather than having one time of singing ,or one time of reading , we’d have a number of shorter times which each element. We decided that the service should be around an hour long, and that prayer, scripture reading and the sacraments should have a larger role. To start the sermons length was shortened by 15-20 minutes, to be around 20-25. We also capped the amount of singing to four songs (a fifth is sung during communion). This allowed more time for the other elements, like (which the congregation actively participates in). We also set the goal of having one Old Testament and one New Testament reading each week (and we have different members read these passages). Often each reading is at least 15 verses in length. Including the call to confession and promise of forgiveness, we have increased the amount of Scripture, to at least 10 minutes of reading. In addition we have the Lords supper on a weekly basis. This has given us, what I think is a more balanced time of worship.

Below is a outline of our order of worship at Grace & Peace Presbyterian Church, with notes on each part (to see a copy of one of our recent bulletins click here):

  • Greeting (Read between the people and the leader)
  • Call to Worship (Read between the people and the leader)
  • Prayer of invocation (extemporaneous prayer by leader)
  • Song (All)
  • First Scripture Reading (Member of congregation)
  • Song (All)
  • Call to Confession (Introduced and read by the leader)
  • Prayer of Confession (Read between the people and the leader)
  • Silent Prayer (Hopefully all)
  • Promise of Forgiveness(Read by leader)
  • Song (All)
  • Offerings, Greetings,and Petitions (People move around to greet each other and at the same time put offerings and prayer requests in a basket at the back of the space)
  • Song (All)
  • Second Scripture Reading (Read by a member of the congregation/or the pastor)
  • Prayer of People/Pastoral Prayer (Prayers are read between the people and leader with pauses for silent prayer between each request. End with a short pastoral prayer that includes and public petitions from the congregation)
  • Sermon (Pastor)
  • Communion (Christians invited to come forward)
  • Song (Sung as the people come forward for communion)
  • Creedal Response (Read in unison)
  • Doxology (Sung by all)
  • Benediction (Explained and performed by Pastor)
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  • http://www.facebook.com/gordon.duncan Gordon Duncan

    Sam, I like this article a lot. At Sovereign King in Garner, NC we take the the Lord’s Supper every week during an hour and half service. We recently had to make changes about the number of songs (actually dropping one and introducing new ones less frequently). I expected complaints but got none. I also recognized that my sermons were creeping up in length so I had to make efforts to get them back to 30-35 mins. I would like to see more revisions to keep things fresh. Thanks for your insight.

  • http://twitter.com/ashergelzer Asher Gelzer-Govatos

    Sam,

    Good points all around. I’m inclined to believe that the valuing of preaching above all else is somewhat built into the DNA of the Reformed movement, as is the neglect of the Lord’s Supper. In large part I suspect that it originated as backlash against the Catholic Church, but it also has to do with the valuing in Reformed circles of the mind above all else. Theology has always had pride of place and as a result other elements of the service suffer.

    There are indeed distinct disadvantages to this method (putting aside completely the question of whether it imitates the Biblical model). First, as noted, it puts the emphasis squarely on knowing and understanding. This in turn emphasizes passivity (or at least very limited activity) on the part of the congregation. Second, preaching involves only two people at a given time: the preacher, and the listener. That is to say, the experience of listening to a sermon is essentially a private one where you interact only with the words coming from the preacher. This serves to isolate believers from one another, especially in settings where the Lord’s Supper is taken only once a month (or even once a quarter!). There is no communal, active participation by the community in the service, other than the singing (even that tends to devolve into personal, isolated reflection).

    As a lay person I am less interested (though not uninterested) in the immediate effects of this on the service. I am, however, very concerned with what this does for all of life, its ramifications in the ways that we Reformed Christians interact with each other and the world. Recently on my blog I explored the possible connection between this anti-sacramentalism and the distinct lack of Protestant intellectuals engaging with the world. A deep problem!

    Anyway, thanks for these reflections, and for your obvious thoughtfulness in preparing your congregation for worship.

    In Christ,

    Asher Gelzer-Govatos

    • http://twitter.com/sdesocio sdesocio

      Asher,
      I’d agree that Reformed peps tend to have a distinct problem, but I think it’s the opposite one. I did a decent amount of reading about liturgy over the last year, and I’d suggest that if you look at the liturgies of the Reformers, they pushed for more participation in the service than their RC counterpart. I think the intellectual bias is as much a result of interacting with methodist and baptist as another other group. The problem is a lot more rooted in the American experience of Christianity than the Historic experience.

      The true DNA of the reformation says that we have 3 normal ways that the Spirit works to nourish the church: Word, Sacrament and Prayer. The problem is that Reformed folks tend to put more stock in things that seem more measurable, or definable and so Preaching is seen as the easiest to interact with.

    • http://twitter.com/ashergelzer Asher Gelzer-Govatos

      Sam,

      Thanks for the thoughts. I can definitely see what you mean about current worship being a response to Methodist/Baptist pressures in America (my dad is a Methodist preacher, so I grew up in the tradition). I guess I was thinking specifically about the downplaying of the Lord’s Supper that came about in the Reformation and has become the dominant paradigm in Protestant churches. Perhaps that is more attributable to memorialists like Zwingli than someone like Calvin who kept a very high view of the sacrament, but somehow it has spread. (For the record not trying to defend the RC view of the sacrament, I just think we tend to swing too far in the other direction). Out of curiosity, how does your congregation take communion?

      Do you think that this interaction with America “enthusiast” denominations has influenced even the way we handle participation in worship? It seems that even the participatory elements you find in Presbyterian churches tend to be highly structured (e.g. responsive Scripture reading) rather than more freeform (e.g. a time for open congregational prayer). Makes sense in my mind, but is it historically accurate?

  • http://twitter.com/terrytimm terrytimm

    helpful post, Sam. in light of an emphasis on singing in many congregations, i raised this questions a few weeks ago, “how can worship leaders help non-singers connect to God in worship?’

    i appreciate your sharing your sample liturgy – my question would be, “what do you currently have someone up front doing that the people of God could be doing?” are there additional ways we can engage the congregation in the acts of worship?

    stay connected…

    • http://twitter.com/sdesocio sdesocio

      Terry, the question of participation was a major factor for the way we shaped our service. In our hour service only the sermon does not have some active participation (though 70% of communication is nonverbal so even then my sermon is in part crafted by the congregations response to my word.) Our whole service is set up in a dialoging manner.

  • Jedidiah

    Thanks Sam! OK, I have one thought. I think you are right to spread out the singing and to keep it from dominating. I grew up in churches that referred to the singing as “worship” and would sing for at least a half an hour straight. I liked it and still do but I think of singing as praying for the most part so I wouldn’t distinguish between them. Thinking of songs this way is really helpful to avoid the worship war mentality and to keep musicians creative. Why say it when we can sing it?

    • http://twitter.com/sdesocio sdesocio

      I guess Id see how singing could overlap with prayer, but it could also overlap with the reading of the Word, and even the teaching/preaching ministry. I guess it seems that singing has a unique pattern of reverberation (bouncing from us to God and form us to each other in a unique way.) It also seems that in the NT its seem as a separate practice, but again they are strongly connected. Good thoughts.

  • Andrew Barnes

    I having some trouble understanding why most of you who have commented believe that most of what the person in the pew is doing is passive. Perhaps it is a fundamental misunderstanding of what is happening in worship. So I will start there.

    When we all come to worship we are coming to worship the Lord. We do so through (keeping it simple) the Word, Sacraments, and Prayer. Now I agree with you that the sacraments have been downplayed and even prayer has been downplayed in typical Presbyterian worship. With the growth of FV the last decade, I think, especially the younger elders in Presbyterian circles have begun to look more into the sacraments and see their great worth. Some have gone too far in their views (but that is not for this discussion). Prayer is still left out in the cold, for most. In the days of the Reformation and the era of the Puritans, do you know that average Pastoral Prayer was over 10 minutes and could often be as long as 20. Where is our dedication to prayer now? How about the weekly prayer meeting?

    But when we come to worship, we come to worship the Lord, and we come spiritually before the throne of grace. With our hearts we come, that is definitely active. How do we worship? We worship through the Word alone (speaking in the eyes of the congregation). We hear the Word read and preached, we pray the Word (at least we ought to), we taste/feel/see the Word (in partaking of the sacraments), we confess the Word (through singing). All of these are actions (i.e. active participation in worshipping the Lord). I think we have lost the active part, have we taught our congregations how to do these things actively. In the Confession, chapter 21 on Religious Worship, I believe section 5, it talks about the ‘conscionable hearing of the Word’. That is an active hearing (an element of worship). When we pray, each member is to be praying the same prayer (that is active). When we sing (well obviously that is to be active). When we partake of the sacraments, yes, that is active too. All of this is active, but also it is communal. In our hearing of the Word, we are to work together as the church from what we heard Jesus speak to us (Word) to put to death sin and live unto righteousness. We discuss and study the Word together after worship, throughout the week as we attempt to live it out. We pray the same prayers, hear the same Word, partake of the same food.

    Anyway, are we missing this aspect as we talk about liturgy and order of worship? It seems to me we are. If we are, are we making too big a deal about how long each element is taking place? It seems to me as Presbyterians, the center should be on the Word read and especially on the Word preached. Since we respond and are guided/guarded by that Word through our prayers and sacraments (and singing). Our Standards state, “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.”

    • http://twitter.com/joeholland Joe Holland

      Since you and Sam are in agreement on the primacy of the Word in worship, I’m wondering how you practically decide how long each Word-based element in your service should take. Would you be willing to post in the comments what you do in terms of timing for each element on an average Sunday?

    • Andrew Barnes

      Joe, I would be glad to, and as I have just been called to a new church in Kansas City I will just go with their worship service. I would have to say that the people at my former church in MS and this one I am going to are not on the one hour schedule. They long to hear the Word and to worship the Lord with His people (not saying those with one hour schedules don’t). I’d say if each psalm/hymn was 4 minutes: 12 minutes total singing. All the prayers throughout the service: 10-15 minutes. All the reading/expositing of the Word (outside the sermon): 10 minutes. The scripture reading and sermon are anywhere from 30-45 minutes depending on the text and application needed. So anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half long worship service. With the Lord’s Supper, that would be another 10-15 minutes (the sermon length doesn’t change if we are having the Lord’s Supper). That is what the people are used to probably since the beginning of the church in the early 1980′s.

      What guides this? Well, I guess even as I look over the time taken on each element, it is pretty even across the board, but the preaching of the Word is given more focus. It seems to me that was the way of the early church (even with the Apostles) up until the 20th Century. How do I determine this? The elders determine this based on what they believe is best for the congregation. They have done so based on what I just said about the Word, and even what I quoted above from the Shorter/Larger Catechism, “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.”

      I hope that answers your question.

    • http://twitter.com/joeholland Joe Holland

      Sounds like a service I’d like to attend. Thanks for answering my question with how you practically put it into practice in your local congregation.

      Comparing your service to the one that Sam mentions at the end of the post, it looks pretty similar save for the time given for the sermon. And that is always something I’ve struggled with. How long does it take someone to preach a good sermon? I default to taking a guy’s word for it as to whether he is expounding Christ from the Scriptures in the time he allots for himself.

      Just some thoughts. And thanks again for sharing your order.

  • Myers Aaron

    First, let me say that I’m an ordinary means of grace pastor through and through and that ever since becoming the pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church (Edwardsville, Il.) – my first solo pastorate – I have made it one of my primary goals to teach the congregation the nature, purpose, and beauty of the means of grace.

    That said, I have a question for Sam and anyone else who agrees with his main premise which is that the promotion of preaching above the other elements in worship is a potential problem: Are you saying that the preaching of the Word should NOT be promoted above the other elements in the worship service? If so, can you substantiate your position from the Word?

    Just one quick read through the Book of Acts would demonstrate that the Apostles emphasized the preaching of God’s Word above everything else. I don’t recall Eutychus falling out of the window due to Paul’s lengthy administration of the Supper or for that matter lengthy prayer.

    The answer to Q. 155 to the Larger Catechism (which all PCA ministers subscribe to) states that “the Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; or building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

    The Word of God, especially the preaching of the Word takes precedent over every other element in the worship and life of God’s people. It’s the Word that the Spirit uses to regenerate and impart faith; the sacraments and prayer are not used by the Spirit to do this b/c they weren’t designed for this purpose.

    What is the purpose of the sacrament? Again – for sake of clarity I turn to the catechism.
    Q. 162. What is a sacrament?
    A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; and to distinguish them from those that are without.

    Concerning prayer – the Word takes obvious precedence there too. It’s the Word that informs our prayer. Apart from the Word we wouldn’t know what prayer is let alone how to pray. This is why the catechism says the following: Q. 186. What rule hath God given for our direction in the duty of prayer?
    A. The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in the duty of prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which our Savior Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s prayer.

    I encourage you to read carefully the following. It’s an excerpt from an essay entitled “The Means of Grace” by Rev. Herman Hoeksema – [1886-1965]. Hoeksema was pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan from 1920 to 1965.

    “Of these two (the sacraments and the preaching of the Word) the preaching of the Word is always the chief means. By this confession the Protestant Churches distinguish themselves from the Roman Catholic Church. The latter has become a sacramental church. When you enter a Roman Catholic Church what strikes your eye first is the altar, symbol of the fact that the Eucharist occupies a predominant place. But when you enter a Protestant Church your eye is attracted first of all by the pulpit, crowned with the Word of God, and only in the second place do you discover the baptism font, and the table of communion. In these churches the preaching of the Word occupies the most important place. And this is as it should be. In the first place, it is evident that the Word of God is the sole means whereby the Holy Spirit first works conscious faith in the heart. The calling to faith is by the Word. The Sacraments could never serve this purpose. In the second place, it must be clear that the preaching of the Word is by far the most efficient means to strengthen and nourish, to develop and enrich that faith. Not the Sacraments, but the Word is the means that explains to us the riches and the fullness of Christ. The contents and object of our faith grow in riches through the Word. Besides, the Sacraments are always dependent on the preaching of the Word. Without the Word the Sacraments have no meaning; the Word alone is full of meaning. If the Word of God is considered a testament of God to His people, the Sacraments are the symbols and seals attached to that testament; but the testament is the most important. And, therefore, the ministry of the Word should always have the most important place in our churches. And as we shall have abundant opportunity in connection with the Lord’s Days that follow to call your attention to the Sacraments, we shall, for the present, limit our discussion to the consideration of the preaching or ministry of the Word of God.”

    Let me say in closing – if the preaching of God’s Word does not obviously take center stage; if it isn’t unmistakably clear that the Word of God preached is more important than anything and everything else in the worship service (again, not at all demeaning the other means of grace – just keeping them in their rightful place) – then not only is there a potential problem – there IS a problem.

    • http://twitter.com/joeholland Joe Holland

      Myers, thanks for your comment. I have the same question for you as I did for Andrew. What guides your decision on how much time you spend on each Word-based element of worship? And if you’re willing to post it here in the comments, I’d love to know how much time you spend on each element on a typical Sunday.

    • Aaron Myers

      Joe,

      My response is very similar to Andrew’s. First of all – the preaching of the Word is primary to the whole service. All the songs, prayers, sacraments lead up to and/or flow out of the text that I explain and apply in that Sunday’s sermon. In planning the liturgy I never just select good hymns randomly or hymns that we haven’t sung in awhile. I always choose the hymns very carefully, making sure the content is theologically sound, the musical score fits the content, and it’s a singable tune for the congregation….and of course, it goes in some way with the sermon. If it’s something new I always have the choir sing the first stanza through.

      There’s no fast-line rule with regard to how much time I think should be spent on each Word- based worship element. I try to use sound judgment. I know my time limit for the service (1hr. 15/20 minutes), and start with the sermon and work around that. Every worship service MUST include the reading of Scripture, the exposition of Scripture, prayers, and the singing of hymns. The Scriptures (in my strong opinion and the opinion of our standards – the WCF) don’t require that we observe the Supper weekly. That said, as soon as we’re able (see below), we’re going to try and move from a monthly observance to a weekly observance. Main argument for weekly observance: why not make use of all the ordinary means of grace as often as possible???

      Our services last on average an hour and 15/20 minutes…and an hour and 35/40 minutes when we observe the Supper, which right now is once a month. We can’t do it more than that at this point b/c of the rental facility we’re using for worship. As soon as the Lord gets us our own place we’ll probably observe the Supper weekly. I preach between 30-40 minutes. All the prayers take approx. 12-15 minutes. All the singing takes approx. 12-15 minutes. The Scripture reading (Prep. for confession/Assurance of pardon/OT and NT reading/Sermon text) takes approx. 10 minutes.

    • http://twitter.com/sdesocio sdesocio

      Aaron,

      I hope I did not come off as saying that preaching is un important. If you noticed my order of worship preaching still is roughly a third of the service. My main question (which was motivated by the Westminister Assembly’s Directory of Worship) is: Are we >over< emphasizing some parts of our service. Such as the preaching and singing? I think its especially important because our sin effects our ministry, and so we need to ask ourselves why am I not willing to trim the length of my sermon this week?

      My Homiletics prof was an ex paratrooper and military chaplain–He was an intense man who made me understand that preaching takes discipline. The sermons he require were 20 minutes for chapel and if we went over that we often lost a whole letter grade. His reasoning wasn't because the Word of God was unimportant, but because often we surround the Word of God with our own filler words that make a sermon stretch into the 40 minute range.

    • Aaron Myers

      Sam,

      You didn’t come as as saying that preaching is unimportant; rather, you came off as saying that the preaching of God’s Word is not more important than prayer and the sacraments. If this is your view, I take issue with it based on the instructions and examples we received from the Scripture and Q and A’s we read of in our catechisms.

      Your opening sentence says:
      “Looking at many churches in the PCA it’s fair to say that singing and preaching seem to be promoted above everything else, and I think that this is a potential problem.”

      This is why I asked the question in my first response – a question that I would still like answer to: Are you saying that the preaching of the Word should NOT be promoted above the other elements in the worship service? If so, can you substantiate your position from the Word?

      The fact is – the Scripture and our standards place the preaching of God’s Word above everything else in the worship service. I use the word “place” instead of “promote” b/c “promote” means to take something and raise it to a higher level. The Apostles didn’t raise the preaching of the Word to a higher level. They simply placed the greatest amount of energy on preaching/teaching the Word of God.

      Think about Paul’s last words to Timothy. He tells the young minister to “Preach the Word – in season and out of season, etc.” The preaching of the Word is w/out question primary in the life and worship of the church. Prayer and the sacraments are vitally important as well, but not as important as the reading and especially the preaching of God’s Word.

      I preach an avg. of 30-40 minutes. I do my best not to belabor a point. I explain the passage, illustrate where beneficial, and then apply the passage. Oftentimes I will apply throughout the sermon.

      All this said, our people must know that the Word of God and especially the preaching of His Word is primary to our lives and worship. The service needs to lead up to and flow out from the sermon – everything from the call to worship to the benediction. Any church whose worship is not unmistakably preaching-centered – true preaching (exposition)-centered (and it’s easy to tell when a church is not preaching-centered…..the singing or the sacraments will seem to take center stage) is bound to be unhealthy. It’s the Word – the reading of it and esp. the preaching of it – that gives life to every other element in the service.

      Grace to you brother,
      Aaron

    • http://twitter.com/sdesocio sdesocio

      Aaron, thanks man.
      I think I’d go with the Westminster Larger Catechism and point out that “Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation” in all his ordinances, but especially in “the Word, sacraments, and prayer”. These three things are held as the ordinary means of grace, and they seem to be put on equal (though not identical) ground in the WLC.

    • Aaron Myers

      Sam,

      I hope I haven’t given you the impression that the gracious means of prayer and the sacraments are not vital to the worship and life of the church. They absolutely are. They are vital for the sanctification of God’s people. This is why I believe in and execute an ordinary means of grace ministry. At our church, we read/preach the Word, pray the Word, and administer the Word in visible form through the sacraments….but notice, everything is grounded in the Word.

      The Word of God read/preached needs to hold the place of primacy in the worship and life of the church b/c this is what the Scripture itself calls for (and incidentally what our standards affirm). See Neh. 8:8; Acts 26:18; Ps. 19:18; 2 Chron. 34:18, 19, 26-28; Acts 2:37, 41; Acts 8:27-30, 35-38; Rom. 6:17; Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; Eph. 6:16-17; Acts 20:32; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Rom. 16:25; etc.

      Note the sum total and nature of the work which the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God read/preached to accomplish as compared what He uses the means of prayer and the sacraments to accomplish:

      Question 155: How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
      Answer: The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

      Question 162: What is a sacrament?
      Answer: A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; and to distinguish them from those that are without.

      Question 178: What is prayer?
      Answer: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

      You raised WLC 154 to support your apparent position that the ordinary means of grace are all on the same level – seemingly that the sacraments and prayer are just as vital to the worship and life of the church as is the reading/preaching of God’s Word. In light of WLC 154 you stated: “These three things are held as the ordinary means of grace, and they seem to be put on equal (though not identical) ground in the WLC.”

      However, WLC 154 is not speaking at all to the PRIMACY of the ordinary means but to the FACT that there are three.

      WLC states:
      Question 154: WHAT ARE the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?
      Answer: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.

      Sam, will you please answer these 2 questions:
      1. Can the preaching of the Word be effectual without the sacraments?
      2. Can the sacraments be effectual without the preaching of the Word?

      Grace to you,
      Aaron

    • Anonymous

      Aaron,
      I shot you an email with my response. I’d love to continue the interactions there.