These are going to be some random thoughts on preaching. Please don’t think I’m holding myself out to be an expert or a model; these are things I struggle with and am trying to think through. A friend of mine, who does church planter assessment, told me that when they ask aspiring church planters to grade themselves from 1-5 on various aspects of their lives, when it comes to preaching no one ever gives themselves less than a 4. On the other hand, I’ve got no interest in a fake, reformed spirituality about my preaching: ‘Aren’t I terrible?’. We need to be able to step back and look at our preaching in the hope that we can improve. These are broad brush strokes and may even be contradictory but here goes…….
1. If you’re heart isn’t burning, neither will your listeners’ be – Do you believe what you are about to preach is the very living Word of God? Are you excited about what you are going to teach? The truth is, if you’re not excited, neither are your hearers going to be. It’s going to look different in different personalities but I sometimes find myself listening to preaching thinking, ‘Does the man preaching think this really matters?’ We can’t all be John Piper, in fact, there are few things worse than people who try to be (well, maybe those who try to be Tim Keller) but there must be a conviction that this matters and it matters to me and I want to tell you why it matters. Without that conviction I’m not sure we should be preaching at all.
2. Conference Preaching isn’t the same as week by week preaching – It may be different in America, where the same 8 people speak at each other’s conferences, but ordinarily in the UK if someone is asked to speak at a conference, they work very hard at it. Let’s face it, the sermon has probably been preached a number of times, in different contexts. Introductions and illustrations have been honed, we’ve read every commentary we can get our hands on, parts of the sermon that didn’t work 3rd time around have been reworked. Everyone pretends this isn’t the case but who are we kidding? The sermons at conferences are a bit longer and certainly more polished. I would even argue there is a type of conference speaker who has a kind of commanding presence up front. This cannot be our model for preaching regularly to the same people. The slickness of conference preaching should be in a completely different genre than the week by week exposition for a church. Preaching at its simplest level is getting people to keep going as Christians for another week. On the over used meal illustration, conference sermons are often 5 course, over the top dinners when week by week preaching is your Tuesday night lasagne. You probably won’t remember it in two days time but it gets you through to the next meal. We need to stop trying to be the next big name. I want to argue that the best preachers are those who are doing it every week. There’s a reality in the work of ministry that those who are away from the coal face easily forget. Every preacher has models and we need to make it men who are doing the hard yards week by week of preaching to their congregation.
3. We don’t have to teach everything in the passage – Most preachers I know take larger sections, a paragraph ordinarily, but sometimes, in Old Testament narrative, it can be chapters, even 2-3 chapters. Preaching on single verses is a neglected skill and does happen evangelistically but probably isn’t used enough. When taking the larger chunks my view is that preaching is not a comprehension exercise where we make sure that we’ve not missed any points in the passage. The aim mustn’t be just to transfer information from my notes into your notes. In our preaching we need to distil what we see as the main teaching point of the passage which by its necessity means that there will be things in the passage we don’t talk about and that is OK. Not every New Testament connection, cross reference, theological insight you’ve gleaned needs to be shared. Give us your one big point, what’s the issue that is burning in your heart from the passage? Most of our sermons have too much information and probably not enough application. Very few preachers I know can regularly preach effectively taking a whole chapter or two chapters. The work of distilling and shedding that which is unnecessary in sermons is time consuming and we need to be more brutal in getting rid of good thoughts and helpful material which is not essential to the sermon.