Over the past few weeks there have been some extremely interesting conversations going on in my head about the practice of preaching and what makes a “good” preacher.
Books have been written, festivals have been held and every denominational family has its canon of people who are considered great preachers.
And while I do not want to take anything away from those preachers who can show up an a conference or step up to any pulpit and deliver a powerful and faithful sermon, I honestly think the best preachers are the ones whom most folks will never hear about: those in the local church who preach Sunday after Sunday to the same folks . . . Sunday after Sunday.
Too often, we lift up those preachers who carry a particular style of preaching — energetic and charismatic — and as if there is one way of being a preacher that we all should aspire to. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a preacher in any context who is stylistically engaging; I simply think there that absent a few key elements, preaching can too easily turn into motivational speaking disguised as proclamation.
As one who has been attending a new church community after leaving my last church, I have found this to be reaffirmed. Our pastor is not traditionally “dynamic” in her style, but she is a good preacher — that is, she is a preacher who can communicate the Gospel in ways that make a difference. Easily boiled down into rule #1 of pastoring, “just love the people you pastor,” here are a few things that I have noticed that might be good advice for other folks who are striving to be good preachers:
- Contextually Astute: Good preachers know to whom and where they are speaking: their history, their pains and their struggles. When I hear a good preacher, no matter where they are, my first thought is usually, “Yes, this person knows to whom they are speaking.” This understanding then impacts how the preacher challenges lives of security, comforts the despairing heart and speaks words of hope.
- Communally Engaging: I firmly believe that there is no excuse to be a boring preacher. Sure, not everyone in a congregation will always enjoy the style of the preacher, but every good preacher should know what makes the congregation tick. Understanding the personality of a congregation — what words they use, what makes them laugh and what ultimately engages their soul — is vital if one wants the words shared to actually make an impact.
- Theologically Solid: Of course no one ever intends to be theologically weak, I know, but sometimes a preacher can get lazy and fall into the trap of only having five things to say and 25 ways to say it. And while those five things may be theologically solid in themselves, I find deeper meaning when I know the preacher continues to struggle with how God is speaking to God’s people each week. If we begin to think that we have it figured out; if our views of God never change; or if we are just waiting for others to catch up, then we have lost the kind of theological integrity that must be part of every preacher’s life.
For most preachers the process is hard enough without the constant refrain of, “If I could only preach like _______” playing in the background. These are just a few reminders as you enter the daunting process of preparing to preach the Word of God each week.
Listen to the Holy Spirit speak, love the people you pastor, and in the end, you will not only be a good preacher, you will be a faithful one as well.