In my occasional role as an interim pastor, I’ve been tasked more than once with creating a questionnaire for potential pastoral candidates who have submitted applications for a vacancy in the church. One of the questions that I like to include is this: “What is the primary goal or ‘center’ of preaching?” The answers I’ve collected over the course of several pastoral searches have varied widely. Some of the answers have been downright weird, but most have been respectable. The most common responses I have received are (1) the priority/content of the text, (2) the display of God’s glory, (3) the calling out of a people for his name’s sake, (4) the faith/obedience/transformation of the hearers, and from those who are fluent in evangelicalese, (5) somewhat vague code-words such as “Christ,” “Cross,” and “Gospel.”
In truth my question may be unfair, because preaching is not monolithic—the specific goal of every sermon need not be the same. I like the question, though, because it offers a window into the sermon repertoire that the church can anticipate from the respondent. Specifically, it tells us that when he prepares his sermons, he will potentially privilege one homiletical objective over others, whether Bible content, evangelism, Christian disciplines, godly attitudes/affections, ethics, etc.
Of course all of these are legitimate goals of a sermon, and I’ve preached sermons directed toward each of these ends. But I’m also conscious, as I preach, that if I focus too narrowly on any one of these concerns, I risk omitting part of the whole counsel of God or ignoring some spiritual need of the church. For this reason, the preacher is well-advised to cultivate a comprehensive and transcendent homiletical objective–a governing objective of which he never loses sight–that subsumes under its aegis all of the legitimate goals mentioned above.
In view of the preceding, my own answer to the question “What is the primary goal or ‘center’ of preaching?” is (tentatively) the cultivation of a comprehensive Christian worldview. This goal recognizes as its ontological basis God’s selection of certain image-bearers to become Christians through the Gospel; owns as its epistemological warrant the whole Christian Scriptures; sees as its scope divine lordship over every sphere of life; offers an ethic as comprehensive as its scope; and posits as its end the holistic glory of God in all that we think, say, do, and feel.
In the comments below I invite our readers to offer their answers to the question, with the goal of mutually refining/perfecting our answers and (hopefully) raising the level of our sermons.