Saturday “Short” Thought: And the Winner Is . . . ?

There is a discrepancy that I need to share with you.  This week, in a slightly relaxed pre-Christmas mode, I ran a couple of polls on the Facebook page and the LinkedIn group associated with this blog.  I asked, what do you wish you had more of in order to help improve your preaching.  Here are the results in reverse order . . .

In last place – further training in biblical studies (5%)

In fourth – more encouragement from listeners (10%)

In third – further training in preaching (19%)

In second – more fellowship with other preachers (24%)

And the winner – more time for preparation (43%)

Now I have done enough classes in quantitative analysis and statistics to know that this survey is bordering on meaningless, but in the spirit of bad statistics, let me make a couple of comments before I point out a big discrepancy for pondering over this festive season.

Comment on the winner – people responded to the survey by clicking on their most desperate felt need.  I suspected that time would be the greatest felt need because many of us wish we had more of it every single week!  This doesn’t mean that only ten percent of preachers need more encouragement from listeners.  I suspect that number would be higher if people could have voted for two or three options.

Another comment on the runner-up – it is interesting that quite a few folks expressed the desire for more fellowship with other preachers.  I suspect that the ministry of preaching is unnecessarily lonely in many churches.  Perhaps it is worth starting some sort of preacher’s gathering in your area, or better, in your church.  I have been so encouraged by the first two gatherings of a dozen preachers and interested parties in our church.

DISCREPANCY! I posted another poll in a larger group of Christians asking “What is the greatest weakness in the preaching you hear?”  The options available were lack of Bible, poor handling of the Bible, lack of clarity, lack of relevance, and poor presentation.  Issues of clarity and presentation came last, lack of Bible came third, lack of relevance second, but the runaway winner was poor handling of the Bible with 45%.  Combine that with lack of Bible for a total of 65% and two things jump out at me.

1. I’m breaking too many quantitative analysis rules to list.

2. Runaway greatest need in one poll (Bible handling), and distant last in perceived need among preachers (further training in Biblical studies) – could it be that preachers are generally over-confident in their ability to handle the text accurately and effectively?  I know some of the preachers who responded to the poll and don’t think this to be true of them, but in general, this strikes me as true: many preachers need more training in effective Bible handling.  I wonder if it would be worth picking up that book that might help over the next couple of weeks as we sit at home enjoying Christmas festivities?  That might be the best feast of them all!


Have a wonderful Christmas!

10 thoughts on “Saturday “Short” Thought: And the Winner Is . . . ?

  1. Surely the greatest thing any of us need is a closer walk with our Lord?

    I am concerned that none of the things wished for were spiritual – they were to do with technique and practical matters. The glaring omission is godliness.

    My greatest needs are a greater likeness to Christ and a greater desire to pray.

    And I don’t think that is just me…

    • Absolutely, Stephen. As I mentioned in the post, these polls were not meant to be complete or even that accurate. I agree absolutely that the greatest thing we all need is a closer walk with the Lord. The reason that wasn’t included in the list was because nobody would vote for anything else if that was an option. I’m sure if you look around the site you’ll see an emphasis on personal spirituality, albeit not an exclusive emphasis as there are things to gain from the practical issues of biblical interpretation and homiletical technique. Thanks for the really helpful comment.

  2. Peter-
    Your comments point to what I have been thinking over the last 20 years. There are more “minisisters” in the pulpit than “preachers”. And wouldn’t handling the Bible better result in a closer walk with the Lord, for you and your listeners?

  3. I think there is a dangerous divide forced between Bible study and personal spirituality. I don’t want to hear from a preacher with great exegesis but poor devotional life, neither do I want to hear from a preacher with a great devotional life but poor exegesis. The two must must must go together. Good exegesis is not the only ingredient in spirituality, but the Bible must be a primary feature of genuine Christian spirituality, so good exegesis can never be an optional extra, or simply something left to certain “elite” teachers.

  4. Re: the discrepancy, I’ve heard preachers criticised for lack of Bible/poor handling of the Bible when I knew very well that it was a clarity / presentation issue. In fact, I’ve been criticised for that myself when I just wasn’t clear.

    The painter looks at a painting and says, “I really got the consistency and shade of the colours right on that one.” I look at it and say, “That is a pretty picture.”

    Our hearers are like visitors to an art gallery or patrons in a fine restaurant. If the painting is attractive, if the food is pleasing to taste, if the message is true to the Word of God, they are happy. There are many things that can mess up a painting, a meal, or a sermon — and they all make the sermon “taste bad” to the hearers.

    So perhaps some of the discrepancy comes because the hearers don’t really understand what went wrong. All they know is that they just heard evidence that this man can’t cook a sermon that is true to the text, and it didn’t taste good at all. (And yes, I know I’m mixing my metaphors in this comment I’m baking :))

    The discrepancy is a nice reminder. Our hearers don’t want to hear us any more than God does. They want to hear His Word. If our methodology is memorable, rather than making God’s Word memorable, perhaps we’re intruding ourselves into the message a wee bit much.

    • Thanks Jon. I agree that clarity is a big factor. Interestingly the poll, for what it was worth, was done in a network of church leaders. It may be a false assumption, but I suspect these people are slightly more alert to biblical handling issues than perhaps the typical listener might be. I’ve found that where I might get frustrated by the abuse of the text on a particular day, generally listeners will not notice that, but will gripe about the personality, the demeanour, the illustrations, etc. I’d have to say, in my experience, that the biggest weakness is generally mishandling of the text in some form or other. Sometimes listeners struggle to pinpoint this and put their finger on what the exact problem is, but with the slightest bit of training they seem to start saying things like, “is that what the text is really saying?” or “can you do that with the Bible?” But the bigger issue is not that listeners struggle to pinpoint poor hermeneutics, it is that preachers all assume they are handling the Bible well.

      • Thanks, Peter. You are probably right about the bigger issue in your last sentence.

        We’re just about always less right than we think we are, on any given topic, so it is undoubtedly true about our handling of the Word as well.

  5. I am no expert; I preach as a volunteer; I view preaching as an act of worship, pushing the veil of mystery, and it deserves the highest output of effort. Biblical training is great benefit, yet I think most preachers could use additional homiletic and public speaking training. It is too easy to slide into a practice of bad habits.

    • Robert – I agree with you. My concern in writing this post, though, is that many preachers think that they handle the Bible perfectly well, yet just need some tweaking in the presentational arts. As a listener I generally am more frustrated by the major inadequacies in Bible handling, rather than the minor weaknesses in presentation. Like a lot of things, it’s hard to see poor Bible handling in the mirror (after all, it makes sense to us!)

  6. I would hasten to add (although I suspect you are aware of this…) that your readership would tend to be a group of preachers who are already concerned about Biblical accuracy, whereas the preachers who people are frustrated by due to lack of Bible, or poor Bible handling, are far less likely to be the ones on a site like this dwelling on how to improve their Biblical preaching!

    It is certainly true though, it is far easier to spot other people mishandling the word that to see it in yourself, because of course it’s so easy to think we understand and be satisfied rather than being unsure and digging deeper.

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