The Evolution of Preaching



Former Oxford professor, Dr. Kadish Kandiah wrote recently why preaching is dead. He lists six compelling reasons why preaching should be, if not already, dead. However, as I read through his points I couldn’t help but to think that preaching isn’t dead, but it may need to evolve, again.

You see, preaching has always been evolving. And maybe the worst thing that could ever happen to preaching is that it would stop evolving. That would certainly kill preaching. By looking at how preaching has evolved one can see where preaching is headed. And that, my preaching friends is something worth figuring out.


1-50 AD – Jesus

At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. – Matthew 26:55


  • Jesus taught like a Jewish rabbi.
  • He wore a tunic (John 19:23)
  • Taught from am Old Testament scroll (Luke 4).
  • He sat down (Jesus preached sitting down for both of His “mountain” sermons)

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: – Matthew 5:1-2

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” – Matthew 24:3

  • Used live visuals (parables)
  • Was funny (Matthew 15:17)
  • Blunt with religious people (Matthew 23)
  • Sensitive to seekers (Matthew 11:28-29


50 – 312 – The Apostles & Underground Church

  • The Apostles, in the book of Acts, are usually standing to preach (Acts 5:25).
  • They preached in open-air settings (marketplaces, common areas of the Temple, etc.)
  • Preached boldly and mostly utilizing the Old Testament (they wrote the New Testament).
  • Paul used secular poetry (Acts 17:28)
  • Incorporated an apologetic tone and logic (Acts 17:23)
  • Due to persecution the church was forced underground
  • The leaders of the underground church most likely dressed like everyone else since Jesus taught strictly against dressing up to impress. (Matthew 6:5)


312 – 1521 – The State and Catholic Churchorient_mediterraneen_de_lempire_romain_-_mosaique_byzantine_-2

  • 312 AD Constantine legalized Christianity and it would become a state religion.
  • Over time preaching ceased to be contextual.
    • In order for sermons to be “true” they needed to be preached in Latin (the commoner didn’t understand Latin.)
    • During this era “superstition” became the reason a person went to church.
    • You wouldn’t go to church to learn about God but to get blessed by God.
  • Preachers wore fancy ornate robes and big hats to be set apart like a leader of state.


1521-1700’s – Reformation and Evangelization of the West

  • 1521 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on a church door in Germany th
    Sounding board above pulpit

    us, changing the church trajectory forever.

  • Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, the fathers of the reformation, rejected, not all, but most Catholic traditions.
  • Art from this period shows us that these men wore black robes instead of ornate colorful or white robes like their predecessors.
  • Reformers preached under a pulpit with a “sounding board”
  • Would teach the Bible in the language of the people.
  • Emphasis was on teaching the Scripture so people could understand God’s Word.
  • There was not a lot of emphasis on life application. Preaching was more about divine education.


1700’s-1900’s – American Awakenings

  • charles_haddon_spurgeon_by_alexander_melvilleThree great awakenings took place in America during this period.
  • Preachers at this time would dress more like the common man wearing what today would be considered more formal clothing.
  • C.H. Spurgeon (Who preached in London) would preach standing up
  • Jonathan Edwards preached sitting down for hours behind a desk.
  • Sermons were very instructional and highly convictional. (Not concerned with application)
  • Preaching leaned more on the dramatic.
  • Preachers were celebrated for booming mesmerizing voices.


1900’s-1950’s – American Enlightenment

  • The Enlightenment is usually paired with the French Revolution in 1789. As it is with most things in Christianity it took about 100 years for Christianity in America to feel the effects of the enlightenment.
  • The enlightenment and the industrial revolution both had affects on preaching.
  • Preachers were now expected to go to seminaries and be t
    aught systematic theology and how to preach.
  • Preaching became less of an art and more of job.
  • Preachers wore suits because they were going to work.
  • Preachers taught the Bible but were less imaginative.
  • In fact, you will find few, if any notable preachers from this period.


1950’s-1970’s – The Billy Graham Era


  • In the 1950’s the gold standard of preachers was Billy Graham.
  • He wore suit.
  • Preached a solid simple gospel.
  • A colorful preacher who knew how to use his voice to stir emotions and the imagination.

In the 1950’s-1980’s this was the expected way to preach. In fact, anyone alive today, who was a Christian at this time, may still expect preachers to preach like Billy Graham with a suit and tie, the Bible, simple gospel and long altar calls.

1980’s-2000’s – Seeker Sensitive Grace Movement


  • During this time we saw the rise of the “sermon series.”
  • Preachers would preach less and less through tired old books of the Bible in the 1980’s and focus more on self-help series that can make your life better and attract more listeners.
  • Dress began to change from suits and ties to sports coats and blue jeans (Or Hawaiian shirts in Southern California)

2000’s-Present – The Second Reformation


  • In the 1990’s the “kids” who grew up in 1980’s youth groups became adults.
  • Their greatest experiences with God were worshiping at a DC Talk concert or a Passion conference.
  • Their “preachers” wore tee shirts and blue jeans.
  • They watched men in suits commit disqualifying sins against the church.
  • As liberalism and science grew a louder voice faith of these young Christians began to wane.
  • Preaching began to shift (and still is).
  • There was a call back to preaching like Jesus, and looking like the common man.
  • No longer does the suit give today’s preacher validity but his sermon graphics, his modern clothing and his relevant message do.
  • There has been a recent resurgence in expository (verse by verse through a book in the Bible) preaching with many young pastors, yet the “sermon series” continues to be the style of choice for many contemporary preachers today.


The Future – Post-Christian-Millennial

What does the future hold for preaching? Based on cultural trends and needs, I believe if preaching is going to survive FIVE things must continue or emerge in preaching.

  1. No more fights over suits and ties. A preacher will dress to fit his context (like Jesus and the Apostles). If that is a suit and tie. Great. If you say live at 7000 feet in the mountains (like me) hiking boots and flannels are more appropriate. Either way, context will determine attire.
  2. Secondly, because of decades of “series” preaching, the church is less Biblically literate. In addition, preaching through a book in the Bible is so unique it is attractional these days. Therefore, I predict there will be a rise in exegetical preaching, if preaching wants to survive.
  3. Today thanks to FB live, You Tube, and cheap shock media coverage, every one is a preacher. Atheists have preachers. Political activists have preachers. Anyone with a smart phone, an opinion and half a wit, can be a preacher. This means world views of Christians are being challenged by multiple sources. Preaching in the future will need to become more apologetic in nature much like the 1st and 2nd century. Cultural worldview apologetics must become part of preaching if preaching wants to survive.
  4. Sermons need to get shorter. Attention spans are shortening. TED talks and most advertisers are already clued in to this. Sermons will need to have less “fluff” and more meat that gets to the point. Illustrations need to be carefully chosen and used to help solidify a point not an emotion.
  5. Authenticity will be the new “authority” – preachers will be trusted because they are real. Preaching will need to be authentic, from a position of love for the listeners. I believe this will also manifest in a preference for smaller venues. The commercialization of consumer driven churches will eventually collapse under a desperate desire for real authentic pastors who have the relational leverage to speak into someone’s life the word of God.


Thanks for reading.




One Comment Add yours

  1. Dannie Napier says:

    Good article on the history of preaching, Andrew.

    Sent from my iPad


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