MikeRaiterHomiletical Health Check: The State Of Preaching In Australian Churches

I’m in a reading group and we’re discussing Chris Watkins, Biblical Critical Theory. We were asked to summarise the book in a couple of sentences. If you know this 600+ page brilliant analysis of the Bible and Western culture (a book none of us have yet finished), then I could no more summarise it in a few words than swim the Pacific Ocean. I feel the same sense of being set a daunting task in analysing the current state of preaching in both the evangelical Anglican scene and the wider church scene. But I love a challenge.

My approach has been to choose at random 10 evangelical churches from 10 Anglican Dioceses (Northern Territory, Brisbane, Armidale, Sydney, Bathurst, Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide, Perth, and N.W. Australia). While I’m personally acquainted with a couple of the preachers, I’d never heard any of them preach before. And I’ve kept the church and preacher anonymous.

Then I’ve randomly selected 10 non-Anglican evangelical churches from Brisbane (I’d just returned from there and so was still in the zone). The churches are Baptist, Independent Baptist, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Brethren, Christian & Missionary Alliance, and Salvation Army. I didn’t know any of the preachers, nor had I heard them before. Again, I’m not identifying any of the churches.

Of course, this is a small sample, but 20 sermons in a couple of weeks was about as many as my brain could absorb (bearing in my mind that my day job is listening to preachers and giving feedback). So, this must add some qualification to my general observations. I examined five features of the preaching:

  • Type of sermon – expository or topical
  • Biblical genre
  • Faithfulness to the text
  • Length of sermon
  • Appropriateness of application


Of the 10 churches, seven preached an expository sermon. By that I mean they paid careful attention to the text and the context and sought faithfully to explain the meaning of the passage. Two were topical. I suspect that the other preacher was following the lectionary. It was also essentially topical but I found it hard to work out what the topic was.

In most cases I listened to a recent sermon and so, given it was the weeks before Easter, unsurprisingly most of the sermons were from the Gospels (Matthew, Luke x2, John x4 and Acts). The topical sermons were loosely connected to Ecclesiastes and Matthew.

There’s been some debate recently on the appropriate length of a sermon. The two opposing views are ‘less is best’, or a sermon 20-25 minutes is usually sharper and clearer. The other approach is ‘they need more’. That is, this is God’s Word and preachers should, and can, spend more time expounding the word. Such an approach commends sermon of around 45 minutes.

In the light of that I was interested to see how long these preachers spoke for. Surprisingly (to me) the longest sermon was 29 minutes. And four were only 15 or 16 minutes. The average length was 21 minutes.

In most cases the preachers were faithful to the passage, some carefully working through it verse by verse. All were clearly evangelical with a high view of Scripture.

What didn’t surprise me is that most preachers struggled with appropriate application. The majority concluded with a reminder of the essentials of the gospel. While one can never complain about hearing that Jesus died for our sins, surely faithful application must flow from the content of the passage. In a sermon on Jesus’ question to Peter, “who do you say that I am”, the preacher asked the congregation the same question. It struck me as odd that addressing a church made up, presumably, of mostly Christians that he asked them who they thought Jesus was? If they don’t know then I blame the preacher.

All in all, I was impressed with the sermons I heard. The preaching was clear, Biblical, and faithful. If these sermons are typical of what’s been preached in our evangelical Anglican churches (and I assume they are) then we can be encouraged and thank God that our people are being well taught.


There was a wide diversity in the sermons I heard. Only three were strictly expository. Others were ostensibly an attempt explain the passage, but my comments were “no attempt to establish the author’s purpose and main idea”, “proof-texting which was superficial and sometimes just wrong”, “ostensibly expository, but really topical with no basis in the text”, and “the text is just a jumping off point for thoughts that come to her about the Christian life”.

The sermons were drawn from across the Bible (Exodus, Ezra, Matthew, John x3, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Revelation).

Once again, the surprising discovery was how long many of the sermons were. The average length was 35 mins, over 50% longer than in the Anglican churches. Only one was less than 30 minutes (it was 18 minutes) and the longest was 50 minutes.

At this point, let me make some brief observations about sermon length. John Chapman once famously said to a young man who’d preached for 45 mins, “Only five people in this city can preach for 45 minutes and you’re not one of them”. I don’t buy the line that anyone can preach long sermons. I’ve been preaching for 50 years and week-by-week I couldn’t maintain a 45-minutes preaching ministry. That’s not to say some can’t. If what you need to say takes 45 minutes, and you’ve removed all ‘the fluff ’ (long stories, repetition, going off track) and you can keep people’s attention, that’s fine. From my experience it’s rare that I haven’t improved a sermon when I’ve made it shorter and sharper.

How faithful were they? I guess it depends on ‘faithful to what?’ Were they faithful to the Scriptures in the sense that the content of the passage shaped the content of the sermon? With some exceptions, and to varying degrees, the answer is no. But were they faithful in the sense that the Saviour Jesus was proclaimed then the answer is yes.

So, to paraphrase Paul in Philippians 1, ‘whether the handling of God’s word was faithful or footloose and fancy free (i.e. with little attachment to the text) Christ was proclaimed and in that I rejoice’.

Finally, how faithful to the passage were the applications.

In many cases the gospel was tacked on at the end. In some cases, the preacher went into the default mode of many preachers in making people feel guilty. It’s surprising that the application of many preachers is like my school reports: he can do better. I say surprising because many of the letters of the New Testament encourage as well as rebuke. Encouragement is pretty rare in most preaching, whatever ‘tribe’ we belong to.


There’s more that could be said and, perhaps, I’ll write a longer article sometime. And if you’d like to interact with me then you can contact me through our website (www.cbp.org.au). We have lots to be thankful for in our evangelical Anglican preaching tradition and the fine colleges where most of our preachers have been trained.

Let’s keep working on our preaching so that, under God, we can be even more faithful and engaging, praying he’ll continue to grow his church through us.

Mike Raiter is currently the Director of the Centre for Biblical Preaching, an organisation that seeks to train and equip churches around the globe in expository preaching. Mike is also the author of a number of books, including Stirrings of the Soul: Evangelicals and the New Spirituality.