This week I had the joy of leading a group in consideration of what it takes to be growing as preachers. I told them we need to wear the right strait-jacket. I also told them that most preachers wear the wrong one.
Actually, when it comes to biblical preaching there aren’t as many rules as people tend to think. The preacher has all sorts of freedom that should be instructed through experience of what works effectively, what achieves communication goals, etc. But there are not as many rules as people tend to think. As I wrote on here some time back:
Some like to impose significant amounts of structure on the preaching event, but in reality there are few limits involved. There may be some limits imposed by the culture and heritage of a church – congregational traditions – and it is wise to think carefully before smashing through those expectations in an attempt to be creative. However, these limits vary from place to place and it is possible, once trust is established, to carefully adjust such expectations.
So is there any constraint, or is it all freedom? And how is it people (in this age of freedom!) tend to choose to wear a strait jacket? And the one they choose to wear is the one that could well be cast aside? Here are the two strait jackets:
Wear This One – “To have integrity as a biblical preacher, I must be constrained by the true meaning of the passage I am preaching.” Each passage is saying something. When we preach, we need to say the something the passage is saying. We cannot say anything from anywhere in the Bible. While we can tailor and target and re-order and re-emphasize, we cannot say whatever we want from a passage. Some people, in the pursuit of “interesting” and “relevant” and especially “original,” will undermine the exegetical integrity of their preaching by saying what the text simply isn’t saying. Be constrained by the text you preach.
Don’t Wear This One – “To be considered a preacher, I must preach in a certain manner, using a certain form that qualifies as a real sermon.” While the first strait jacket guarantees our integrity as Bible handlers, this second jacket can sometimes undermine our effectiveness as biblical preachers. What shape should a sermon take? What style of delivery should be used? Matters of form are matters of freedom for the preacher to evaluate strategically. Different texts, different circumstances, different occasions, different strengths as a preacher, different personalities, different listeners, can all prompt different sermon shape and delivery style. At this level our goal is effectiveness in communication. We do not need unnecessary limits in place to hinder our effectiveness.
Sadly too many preachers settle into a predictable pattern where actually there could be considerable freedom – in matters of form and delivery. And too many show a wild freedom where there is a limit – in the meaning of the text. Let’s be sure to wear the right strait jacket, but throw away the other!