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Understanding the Contemporary Preaching Model

By Rick McDaniel
There is a recent development that has taken place in the field of preaching. It did not originate with a prominent scholar in the field of homiletics. It has come out of the practical experience of some of today's leading preachers. I will call it, for lack of a better term, a contemporary model of preaching. I would like to examine what brought about this new model, what this new model proposes, and what its strengths and weaknesses may be.

Over the last thirty years or so our society has changed from a Christian mind-set to a secular mind-set. This change means that a preacher cannot expect that the people to whom he or she preaches will have an understanding of the basic beliefs of Christianity, knowledge of biblical stories, or even a belief in absolutes of right and wrong. This of course assumes that the preacher is trying to reach the unchurched person.

This new model of preaching is designed for preaching to the secular person, not for preaching solely to the Christian. To preach to such people will require a new understanding and new approach.

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, designs his preaching with this new rationale. He says that in order to speak intelligibly to unchurched people we need to work through two critical areas. First is that we try to understand the way they think (Hybels, Mastering Contemporary Preaching, p. 29). This means the preacher must get out of the church and into the world, getting close enough to people to understand their needs. The second area is to communicate that we like the unchurched person (Hybels, p. 30). Hybels believes that if you don't like them, it will be reflected in your preaching, destroying your effectiveness.

Today, people are part of a television generation. They are so used to flashing images and high stimulation that they have raised expectations of communication. The unchurched person is also the ultimate consumer. Hybels would say that with every sermon they are asking, "Am I interested in this?" (Hybels, p. 31). The preacher must start where the unchurched person is and then bring them to a Christian understanding.

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Mission Viejo, California, is another leading advocate of the contemporary model. He has developed its theory more than any other preacher, pointing out that people today have three fundamental needs: they need to have their faith reinforced, they need to have their hope renewed, and they need to have their love restored. His thinking about preaching is based upon these fundamental needs and how the preacher can meet them.

Doug Murren, pastor of Eastside Foursquare Church in Kirkland, Washington, believes the Church must be "user-friendly" and preaching should lead the way to accomplishing that. He advocates preaching very practical, how-to messages that tell the listener Christianity is meant for everyday life (Murren, The Baby Boomerang, p. 95). He says a contemporary model sermon begins by going straight to the self-help section of the local bookstore (Murren, p. 100); sermon ideas will come from titles found in this section.

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