Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

15 Sep 2016

The Goal of Preaching


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.

3 Responses

  1. Tim Miller

    If I were a candidate, I am afraid I would have struggled to understand whether you wanted my intended goal (as in telos) for preaching or whether you wanted me to share the foundation (what I would have understood “center” to have meant) for preaching. But now having understood the question, I will provide a tentative answer.

    The goal of preaching is to direct my listeners to understand God’s Word with the aim that His Spirit would produce the effect sovereignly intended by the text.

    A few things about the definition. First, it recognizes that particular texts will be used in different ways by God’s Spirit. This allows flexibility in the purposes of each sermon, since I have to first ask what the text was designed to accomplish. Second, it emphasizes the role of the Spirit, noting that I am not capable of accomplishing change in my hearers. Nevertheless, it recognizes that my ability to help the congregation understand the Word can affect the way the Spirit uses the text.

    I also believe this definition takes into account the five purposes you indicated at the beginning of the article.

  2. BE

    Here’s my answer: The goal of preaching is to accurately communicate God’s Word so that God is glorified as His purpose for His message is accomplished.

    The primary aim or goal is the clear, faithful, and accurate communication of what God has said. That’s what expositional preaching is all about. So that’s the first step.

    The glory of God is our goal in everything, but since it is easy to assume this and therefore overlook it, I always want to make it explicit.

    My initial inclination is to say the goal is transformation or heart change. This could be similar to your goal of cultivating a comprehensive Christian worldview, since that requires change or transformation on our part (we currently do not possess this worldview). Though one weakness with focusing on worldview is that it seems to limit the purpose to cognition, while preaching also aims to transform our desires and actions. Our goal in preaching is not simply the imparting of truth but the transforming of lives.

    But I think there is also a purpose of preaching that includes the hardening of hearts (Is 6:9-10; 2 Cor 2:16). So that’s why I want to state the way that God would be glorified more broadly by acknowledging His purposes for that passage in the hearer’s lives. But, going back to the first part, that purpose is accomplished best when His word is accurately set forth.


  3. Steve

    “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1Ti 1:5) Meaning, love for God and love for fellow man. Do I get the job?