notre dame montreal

What is preaching?

The Rev Charles Royden



We gather together tonight and we celebrate the fact that Claire has been called by God and is being equipped for the service of preaching in the Church. It is really a time of thanksgiving and recognising the commitment which you have shown Claire and which you going to make in taking on this role. I hope it doesn’t sound inappropriate when I say ‘Well done’

More of that later. But I want to say something about preaching; what it is and where we are all going with it. Preaching and teaching are in the minds of many people very different things, tomes have been written about the different meanings in scripture of the distinctions of the Greek words used for preaching and teaching. I will spare you that tonight. The reality is that to you I and many others here tonight, is entrusted that ten minute slot in our church services which is of fundamental importance. This is perhaps one of the most important occasion when our faith is challenged and encouraged.

So we need preachers who can use it this time effectively, this is the reality of where we are now irrespective of the theological arguments.

There is a lovely rubric in the Church of England which states that the effectiveness of the consecration of the holy sacrament is not diminished by the unworthiness of the minister who consecrates it. In other words he or she might be a right so and so, but it is still the body and blood of Christ.
That is not the case with our preaching. Our words mean little in life or in the pulpit if they are not substantiated with our actions. One of the most lovely quotes is from Francis of Assissi who said to his followers
‘go and preach the gospel everywhere and if necessary to use words.’
As preachers we do have to use words, but they are seen as hot air by congregations if we are not seen to try and live them.
It is said of Spurgeon that whatever he was in the pulpit he was in private

People will pay much more attention to a poor preacher with a remarkable life than they will to a remarkable preacher with a poor life.

Claire I have known you for a considerable time now and I know of your Christian commitment and your living testimony to the presence of God in your life. For that reason I know that you will have a ministry which draws attention to Christ and gives glory to God. I share with all of the congregation tonight in celebrating the service to which you have been called.

I am somewhat disappointed that you pursued your calling in the Methodist Church however because you will remember that I tried to get you for the Church of England some years ago.

When God appoints us for a task he anoints us for a task, he gives us the grace we need. So we commit ourselves tonight to pray for you. That commitment of yours and ours is the first of several words which I want to use to frame my address beginning with 'C.'  The next is Change.


I want us to think for a moment about change. I came to St Mark’s and Putnoe in 1990. I went on the internet and found a picture of Dubai in 1991

Dubai 1991

Dubai 30 years ago was a fishing village. The pace of change has been such that now Dubai is a very different place.

Dubai 2005


It is said that there was much change between 1900 and 1990 as in the previous 1900 years. And then in the ten years between 1990 and 2000 there was as much change again. Change is now a feature of our lives and the pace of that change is quite remarkable.

The lives of each one of us have been turned upside down. My point is that as preachers we need to be imaginative in the ways that we teach and preach and communicate our faith in such an age of change. We have to be imaginative and creative if we are to make Gospel real in the lives of people today.

I remember that our first church website address was

That has changed and we now use

When we started a website people said we were daft. A couple of years later the Methodist Church did a website competition which we won. Some people still thought we were daft. Now we are making contact with over 1300 people per day, much more than we could ever have dreamed of. I always ask our local preachers to contribute by writing the commentary for Partnership News, putting copies of their sermon on the web, what an opportunity to reach out.

Last night I typed into Google ‘Church Prayers’ came third and fourth. This is ahead of the main international denomination websites of things like the Roman Catholic Church! Prayers are one of the biggest sources of hits on our websites, with people wanting to use prayers and send us prayer requests.

The point is that how people learn and the media that they use has changed greatly. Yet we are still not changing in so much of what we do. we need to ask ourselves questions about. How we learn and therefore how we preach and teach.

We all learn in different ways and educationalists will be falling over themselves with different theories at this point but what is beyond doubt I would suggest and we would all agree that especially in today’s multi-media environment we are used to seeing as we learn. But how much of our preaching involves images?

Why are we so slow to use different media? We hardly ever use overhead projectors let alone computer projectors in teaching and communicating.

YouTube was created in February 2005 by three former PayPal employees
With its easy to use interface, YouTube made it possible for anyone who could use a computer to post a video that millions of people could watch within a few minutes. It is now owned by Google and attracts millions of hits. But sadly the amount of Christian video on You Tube is extremely low and poor. We need to get more stuff out there. You could get a mobile phone record something for your sermon and then post it online afterwards on You Tube. You might easily have more people hear what you have to say in one month than in the rest of your ministry.

But even if we do not feel able to use some of the opportunities which are available to us. We need to find better ways of communicating.

Sermons need to be quality, they should take days of thought and hours of preparation, not minutes. It is quite sad how easily the fire of the gospel can be extinguished by the cool words of a sermon. The teaching of Jesus was so wonderfully brought to life with stories and hyperbole and rhythm and rhyme.

A preacher asked his wife what his sermons were like and she said, why don’t you listen to them. She agreed to tape his next sermon. The preacher duly got the tape went to his study switched it on sat down, started to listen and fell asleep.

Listen to some sermons and they will send you to sleep. We always used to say that if somebody falls asleep in your sermon wake the preacher up. I don’t actually believe that any more because I remember one evening practically shouting ‘wake up’ and I could not arouse a member of the congregation. But we do need to tell more stories, bring sermons alive with humour and colourful anecdotes, and these take time. Those of you who are any good at Family Service talks will know that these are the most difficult of all things. The secret is to take a profound truth which will challenge all ages and then to deliver it in a manner which will be understood, albeit in different ways, by all ages. To do this you need to do the sermon and really understand it and what you want to say and then think of a vehicle, to get the message across.

Some of the most complex things which Jesus taught he was able to summarise in a sentence
Render unto Caesar …..

I am not in any way saying that if we were all better preachers then people would be flocking to church. We are not assured that people will listen, we are not assured that they will take any notice, we preach and teach regardless, leaving the work of bringing forth fruit to God. However we do need to faithfully seek by our gift of teaching, to bring our God alive in the hearts of congregations. With hard work and imagination.


Many people are against our faith in new ways. How many people will there be in our churches in another 20 years time? If current trends continue there will be very few. We have lost generations of young people who have no knowledge of what Christianity is. But there isn ‘t just ignorance there is also direct attack

For most of the time folks plod along in life as though there was nothing more to each one of us than skin and bone. The presence of a spiritual part of our lives, a soul is ignored by most. However there are those who positively fight against us. Recently we saw that some people will pay good money to buy advertising on the back of buses in London to tell us that there really is no God. The Atheist Bus Campaign is an attempt to place atheist advertising on buses (and potentially other forms of advertising) in the UK. It was created by comedy writer Ariane Sherine and launched on 21st October 2008, with official support from the British Humanist Association and Professor Richard Dawkins.

Richard Dawkins is an atheist fundamentalist who believes that religion is evil. He sees science and religion at war in an apocalyptic battle in which only one can win, the battle between good and evil, reason and superstition.
In his book ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’ he speaks of how religious people are infected with a ‘meme’, a virus which allows them to believe in God. Religion impoverishes the mind. Religion leads to evil, it is the result of this 'meme' a virus of the mind.

However not all scientists are atheists and Dawkins much not be allowed to get away with his view which lack any kind of evidence, something of which he accuses religion. Stephen Jay Gould, a scientist and himself an atheist said that science cannot adjudicate on matters of faith. He did an analysis of every evolutionary biologist since Darwin. The result was two piles, each about the same height. The outcome was therefore that either half of his colleagues were wrong, or science could not pretend to be able to adjudicate. Science neither proves or disproves religious faith.

Religion is not a virus of the mind. Science does not automatically lead to atheism. There are religious views of creation and scientific views on the origin of the universe these can easily be reconciled. There are scientists who believe and scientists who do not. Huxley, ‘Darwin's Bulldog’ invented the word agnosticism, believing that science could not speak either way. That is the honest position of science, anything else depends on faith, either faith the religion is true, or a faith that it is not. Science cannot answer either way on God, neither should it.

You and I as preachers have to be alert to the messages which are being taught by those who are opposed to our faith and we have to be able to expose the criticism when it is false and without any substance. Our faith can withstand the most rigorous analysis and we need not be afraid of scrutiny.


I want to conclude just by saying that as we look for effective ways of preaching, new ways to reach out. Our core message never changes and we really do need preachers with conviction. The method of communication might change, but the content of our preaching should be like a compass always pointing people in God’s direction.

In the pages of scripture are words of eternal life and a message which can give hope to our world. To us has been given a most wonderful privilege and an onerous responsibility of communication. Preachers without conviction do not convict the hearts, when our hearts have been warmed we can more easily speak from those hearts to warm the hearts of others.

Preachers of conviction can speak from the heart and will be faithful and honest in preaching. Always seeking to faithful and willing to say unpopular things and to challenge. This honesty enables us to overcome our fear of speaking unpopular messages, for no one should preach who fears people more than they fear God.

Our belief is that God loves us, each and every one of us and he wants us to know and love him. we believe that through his Son Jesus Christ, God shows his love to the world. We must ask God to give us that same love and concern for those to whom we preach. To love to preach is one thing; to love those to whom we preach is another. A God who loves people cannot be taught by a preacher who does not.

So may God convict us and so empower us to take his love to a lost and broken world that by his grace more may find his peace.