The Prophetic Voice

The Prophetic Voice

Klaus Runia, in his book The Sermon Under Attack quotes a rather unkind definition of preaching as ‘a monstrous monologue by a moron to mutes’. In his book, which is actually a defence of preaching and an appeal for more effective communication, Runia explores some of the reasons why monologue preaching has been subject to such criticism. He identifies important shifts that have taken place in the social context within which preaching is now situated and which challenge the practice of preaching. Amongst these shifts Runia identifies a cultural shift, away from passive instruction to participatory learning; a societal shift, away from simplicity to complexity; and a media shift, away from logical argument to ‘pic ‘n’ mix’ learning.

These shifts can all be understood as manifestations of a larger shift that is taking place throughout the western world. Communication now frequently involves the use of images as well as words, short contributions from diverse points of view, and open-ended presentation that allows freedom to chose your own conclusion. For preachers, this implies not only the use of visual communication as well as verbal communication but difficult challenges about the style and purpose of preaching. Statistical evidence suggests that somewhere between 65% and 90% of people interviewed directly after the service ended could not say what the main point of the sermon was or what issue it was addressing. For Klaus Runia what is needed are better sermons and more effective preachers … but does this really take us to the heart of the problem?

How much preaching is a sheer waste of time? The preacher prays, studies, reflects, crafts a sermon, illustrates it with stories, delivers it with passion and integrity … but it has very little impact on those who listen. Members of the church and congregation are usually too polite to say so, but the reality is that most preaching does not engage their attention, address their concerns or affect their lives. How many of the thousand people a week who have left UK churches during that last 20 or 30 years did so because they were bored by the sermons? Others remain and listen to perhaps 50-60 sermons a year … but with what result? For all the effort in preparing, delivering and listening to sermons, most church members are not as mature as we might expect as a result.

Why is this? Of course there are bad sermons, and there are preachers whose lives are inconsistent with their teaching … but people may listen week after week to the best prepared and presented sermons, given by thoroughly sincere preachers, and yet make little progress in Christian discipleship. Some preachers blame the congregations for a lack of expectancy that God will speak, or an inability to listen to a ‘solid exposition’ of the word, or even downright disobedience to what they hear. I suspect, however, that there is a more significant factor in the failure rate of the sermon than the quality of the preacher or the responsiveness of the hearers … I want to suggest that the problem really lies in our concept of preaching itself. The solution is not to be found in replacing monologue preaching with interactive preaching as some would suggest. I am an advocate of the use of interactive preaching but, having pastored a church where the interactive preaching model was employed regularly on Sunday evenings for more than seven years, I know that interactive preaching can be just as ineffective as monologue preaching.

It is not preaching per se that is the problem in my opinion but the lack of ‘prophetic preaching’ – speaking God’s ‘now word’ for the church and the world! Largely as a result of misinterpreting such texts as 1 Corinthians 1:21 [KJV] – ‘It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe’ – there has grown up, within evangelical circles in particular, an emphasis on the act of preaching itself, rather than ‘the message preached’ [NASB]. The actual Greek word Paul uses here in 1 Corinthians 1:21 is kērugma which literally means ‘a proclamation by a herald’ and denotes ‘the substance of what is preached as distinct from the act of preaching itself’.

I am sure that there are many capable preachers around today who faithfully expound the Scriptures as the word of God week by week but, putting it bluntly, all too often preacher satisfaction takes precedence over congregational growth. Preachers repeatedly choose their favourite texts, passages or themes to preach on to their people. They plagiarize other people’s sermons, books, and ideas and all too often decide of their own volition what it is the people need to hear … whereas what is really needed is ‘prophetic preaching’, God’s ‘now word’ for the people! There are numerous books about preaching on the market today, many of them very helpful, but I know of no book that deals with the subject of ‘prophetic preaching’. When Paul refers to the ‘word of God’ as ‘the sword of the Spirit’ [Ephesians 6:17], the actual Greek word he uses for ‘word’ is rhēma which is indicative of ‘a particular word or message that comes underlined by the Holy Spirit’. Most preachers will claim to have prayed about what they should preach about the following Sunday … but have they truly waited upon God for that prophetic word that will truly ‘cut to the heart’ of the people as Peter’s sermon did on the Day of Pentecost [Acts 2:37]?

Jim Binney


  1. Well done Jim, I told you that you could work out how to blog on your own. You are now added to my 'Bookmarks' so that I can pop in to see if you have written anything.Earlier today I was thinking about the year coming to a close and how at the beginning we wouldn't have expected to be where we are now – both retired 'old gits' – when I became aware that God hasn't finished with you and Julia. He still has plans for you to use your gifts to equip His church for service. In particular I was aware that you had time to study and write and I beleive that, somehow, God will use this to open doors for you.God bless and thank you for all your help and support.


  2. Thanks for this, Jim. I absolutely endorse what you are saying. I'm back to preaching to a congregation every Sunday again, loving it, and still feeling really excited about the potential of prophetic preaching. Keep writing.


  3. Hiya Jim, thought I'd come and check this out, welcome to the wonderful world of blogging!You know what made me laugh whlie reading this, is that if you replace the word sermon with lesson, and the word preach/er with /teach/er then it basically describes a lot of the debate happening concerning teaching practice at the moment. Didactic teaching has taken a heavy amount of criticism, and nowadays teachers are being told to take on the role of facilitator and switch to an interactive style of teaching. Although I myself prefer this style, the proof is in the pudding really, and it is hard to see any definitive difference made by this switch.It all depends on the willingness of the receiver to engage, to be open to possibilty and expanding their own perceptions. In terms of spirituality, I think what is needed is for people to become their own priests and priestess' in their religion – to actively explore the great mysteries themselves and build their own heartfelt connections with spirit. In my eyes, the greatest and most effective preacher is one who sees himself not as the mediator between God and the people, but who prods and nudges people to mediate for themselves. There is no value in what is being told to them about someone elses spiritual journey or revelations unless it inspires them to make the journey for themselves. However, I make no claim to knowing how this is possible, some people just aren't ready for that kind of change or commitment – it's a huge responsibility. I merely muse, lol.What exactly is the 'now word' by the way? Forgive me if I have missed it, I can be a bit slow!Good stuff Jim, glad to see you're enjoying retirement and doing something with purpose!Haley


  4. Thanks Haley. Enjoyed your response and appreciated your encouragement. Lot of similarities between preaching and teaching/members of the congregation and school children. By God's 'now word' I mean that particular word/message/communication God wants us to hear right now/today/at this time … not something historical or futuristic … but something that 'scratches where we itch' right here, right now.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: