A number of Evangelicals have remarkable veneration for the office of preaching. In fact, preaching practically defines the pastoral office in many Protestant traditions. A number of recent emergent and emerging church traditions have moved away from this focus, it seems, though among the most liturgically bare traditions where church services are basically music plus teaching, the sermon still survives as one of the key components. This is somewhat indicative of the Protestant Reformation’s true colors when they claimed to be restoring the balance between Word and Sacrament – most traditions did away with the Sacraments (in varying degrees) in favor of the preaching of the Word.
Now, if this dichotomy was as black and white as I just made it sound, then (I believe) the Protestant traditions would have died out by now, with such a poor balance between Word & Sacrament. However, what’s not readily acknowledged a lot of the time is the fact that preaching itself is somewhat sacramental. Although they probably never used the word, this idea shows up in the attitudes of many evangelists through protestant history – hearts can be moved and souls can be won for Christ by hearing the preaching of the Gospel!
How is preaching sacramental? It meets the base definition of a sacrament: a visible or outward expression of an invisible inward reality or truth of God. Visibly and outwardly, a mere human stands up and speaks to others about God. The preacher has prepared ahead of time, in some way or another, to develop some sort of message to God’s people derived from God’s Word, primarily the text of the Bible. Invisibly and inwardly, hearers may find themselves drawn closer to God, deepening their relationship with him, or their knowledge of him.
As with all sacraments, preaching is not magic, nor a human manipulation of God’s power. The preacher prepares & works in order to touch the soul (heart+mind) of the hearers, but only the Holy Spirit can touch the spirit of the hearers. Ideally, preaching ought to reach both, but it’s subjective; people are different and preachers are different and sermons are different. Thus, preaching is not an objective sacrament like the Eucharist and Baptism, wherein Christ specifically promises grace to the recipients. Rather, preaching is a sacramental action, an opportunity for God’s grace to be conveyed and received.
Also, like some other sacramental events, there are some spiritual gifts associated with preaching. The gift of prophecy – speaking from God into the world – is almost synonymous with how good preaching is usually defined. The gift of teaching helps infuse preaching with sound theology. The gifts of exhortation & encouragement help infuse preaching with the style and finesse needed to help the hearers to listen. Thus, preaching is not a sacramental action which ought to be confined to the office of the pastor, but open to all who are appropriately gifted. For sure, James cautious us that not many should teach, but those who are so gifted should. And yes, those who are ordained to be deacons and priests are expected to be qualified to preach also, but if there are capable lay people, then they should be recognized and cultivated.