Lately, doing some appreciative inquiry interviews in the congregation I'm serving, when it came to the question of what makes worship valuable and what is important in it, I heard people instintictively and happily respond with the Reformed shibboleth-cliché answer "of course, the Preaching of the Word is very important." I encountered this years ago at a Classis round table in Canada as well. When I appreciatively inquire about how they know when the preaching of the Word has happened, I very often get a look of deer caught in the headlights, or an answer like "Well, I know it when I hear it."
The few conversations around this that get to substantives will still often focus on peripheral simplistics like "as long as the preacher deals with the text it is the Word" or "if there is something I can take into life-change the Word had been proclaimed" or "It is the Word if there is a clear application from scripture that guides me in what I must do." But the text can be dealt with yet the message not be gospel. And people being moved simply makes it a good motivational talk. And "all men must not trim their beards" is an application that texts could support, but it is not good Preaching of the Word. And so on.
I suspect that few of us really have a clear definition that is both biblical and Reformed and that is neither shibboleth nor cliché. I write this realizing it would probably take me an afternoon to come up with a good definition myself, even though I am one who has the responsibiltiy of "preaching the Word" each Sunday. I know my definition would slant towards the power of narative being greater than the power of propostional statement, for instance. So, my impression is that we are all over the map in our undertanding what that five word essence really is, and we are scattering further as we wander around without clear definitions and are influenced by diverse imputs.
Anyone care to attempt a definition, or point to an existing one that helps?
Personally, I'd like to see a webinar on this topic by one of our Seminary Professors...