I’ve been a public speaker since the age of seventeen. I preached my first sermon from 2 Chronicles 7:14 in January of 1970 and conducted my first two-week revival just three weeks out of high school. So the subject of preaching is one that has been of interest to me for quite some time. Over the years preaching styles and what is viewed as biblical content has changed. I shared with some pastors last week that I’m not sure what good preaching looks like anymore. Some judge a good message in direct proportion to whether the preacher “agrees with me and my world view.” However, my best guess is for many, communication style, biblical accuracy, relevance, application, an appropriate use of humor, and illustrations are some of the ingredients of a good sermon.
I grew up in a church tradition where good preaching was often measured by how entertaining and exuberantly the speaker communicated the message. If the preacher wasn’t perspiring by the end of the sermon then it was obvious they didn’t preach under the “anointing,” and they needed a “fresh touch.” Loud preaching was the style of choice, and hoarseness the next day was a sure sign the anointing had come; which in reality has nothing to do with Holy Spirit-inspired communication. My voice teacher in college told me that if I didn’t stop preaching so loudly, since I preached like my pastors did, I would damage my voice box. Well, there went my anointing, right? Not!
If a parishioner tires of a pastor and their preaching style, they might casually tell their friends they won’t be back because they’re not “getting fed.” The interpretation of that statement is, “The pastor’s sermons aren’t setting well in my spiritual digestive system, and I need a better spiritual chef.” My personal view is, if I’m feeding myself with God’s Word throughout the week, I won’t starve because of one week/weak sermon. By the way, they probably had the same complaint about the last pastor as they exited that spiritual “restaurant,” if the truth be known.
The “foolishness” of preaching, using St. Paul’s word, doesn’t give ministers, yes myself included, license for foolhardy pulpit behavior. The mission of this blog is to challenge all of us to think more deeply about all of the sermons we’re hearing. Be assured with the explosion of social media and easy access to the Internet, many are listening to a myriad of speakers other than their own pastor. A good sermon must be more than a cute title, sprinkled with sound-bite comedy, and a little Bible thrown in for good measure. Because you enjoy listening to someone deliver a sermon isn’t the “taste test” for healthy spiritual consumption, right? The Apostle Paul told his son in the faith, Timothy to:
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and encourage with every form of patient instruction. For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires. So they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
This personality-driven, cult-like culture is easily duped by charismatic individuals who have their punch lines well-rehearsed and who know what people want to hear.
My concern is that the American Church audience is attracting listeners that judge things, including preaching, by how it makes them feel rather than if they’re hearing truth. Some preaching is like junk food that tastes good but isn’t always good for you. Can I get an AMEN?
So, I’ll leave you with my own opinion of what constitutes good preaching. I call it SMART preaching. If you remember, I talked about SMART goals a few weeks back, so I’m retrofitting that same concept for sermons.
A SMART sermon is:
Measurable: with Scripture as the plumb line
Achievable: is applicable
Relevant: is current
Timely: under two hours, just kidding, or am I?
Everyone has the right to decide what kind of preaching inspires them to grow in Christ-likeness. I’m not suggesting our pews and listening audience are dominated by shallow or naïve jug heads. I am suggesting we need to work hard at discerning the times when preaching is simply “tickling our ears” and when it’s causing us to ponder God’s truth and how we can apply that truth in our own lives.