Healthy churches hear good preaching.
Few would disagree with such a statement. However, the definition of good preaching is about as easy to agree upon as is good taste in fashion. Our definition of good preaching usually reflects our point of view and the preaching to which we are accustomed.
Unfortunately, for many clergy and laity alike, the preaching event has become associated with personal criticism, unfair expectations and disappointment.
These days, the pressure to deliver a powerful sermon is higher than ever for clergy. Everyone has access to a variety of media outlets that feature superb preaching, which creates high expectations for your local pastor. Pastors know this and recognize that our skill sets may not measure up to those of the high-profile pastors many laity measure us by.
For most clergy, preaching is at once our most challenging, humbling, rewarding and frustrating endeavor. Most pastors I know treasure the time in the pulpit and regard it as an awesome privilege and responsibility that demands ardent study, divine inspiration and thoughtful preparation. Most lay persons I encounter come to worship hoping to hear a fresh and encouraging word from the Word.
When we can put our agendas and egos aside and invite the Spirit into the equation to both inspire the one who delivers the Word and the one who desires to hear the Word, the result is usually an event that honors God.
I hope you will find ways to affirm your pastor and his or her sermons. Know that their sermons are labors of love that represent their interpretation of what God intends for you and your congregation to hear. To be sure, preachers are flawed, earthen vessels who often distort or confuse the Spirit’s guidance, but the miracle of grace happens every time we serve up the Word, and God’s insights bubble up in spite of our shortcomings.
If you are a pastor, I hope you will be reminded of the centrality of the spoken word and the hopeful expectation your people bring to worship each week. Make it your highest priority and give it your best effort.
I recently heard a beautiful word about preaching from Dr. Brett Younger, the gifted preaching professor at McAfee Seminary in Atlanta. He was speaking to a group of preachers about the value of preaching. He said:
“Several semesters ago, I had a good but petulant student, who said on the first day of class, ‘I’m not sure I believe in preaching. Why should we preach at all?’
“I wish I had been quicker with my response. The next day I said:
“Why should we preach?
“We need to preach because the world lies, and someone needs to tell the truth.
“Because we love war, and innocent people die.
“Because children starve, and we could stop it.
“Because our neighbors are lost, and we only wave as we drive by.
“Because advertisers tell us to want everything, and we forget to give.
“Because entertainers teach us to lust, and we don’t know how to love.
“Because People magazine is dull, and the stories of faith are anything but.
“Because creation is being destroyed, and we have to sound the alarm.
“Because we live in denial, and don’t remember what honesty sounds like.
“Because we are tempted to despair, and we need hope.
“Because the church has gotten lazy, and we need courage.
“We need to preach because when people have been tempted to compromise, Moses, Jesus, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of preachers we’ve never heard of have taught us to dream again.
“Why should we preach? Because the world lies and God needs us to tell the truth.”
How about we resist the temptation to critique and criticize the preaching we hear and instead renew our commitment to be thoughtful listeners? How about we pastors redouble our efforts to speak the truth in love and take ever more seriously the privilege of preaching?
The world desperately needs healthy churches and clergy who love to preach and hear God’s word. I hope your pulpit will be that wonderful place where his truth is thoughtfully shared in the midst of a supportive and encouraging congregation. When that happens, God’s Kingdom truly comes on earth, as it is in heaven.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC) housed at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.