Biblically Faithful – The message needs to be the message of the text faithfully interpreted and communicated.
Organizationally & Vocally Clear – The listeners need to be able to hear and follow the train of thought.
Contemporarily Relevant – The listeners need to sense that the message is relevant to their life and circumstance.
If preaching could tick these three boxes on a consistent basis, then the church would be healthier by far. But all three can be present and the message can still be painfully dull. Biblical, but dull. Clear, but dull. Relevant, but dull.
So when I evaluate preaching, I always include a fourth necessary ingredient: Interpersonally Engaging. Good preaching needs to be biblical, clear, relevant and engaging.
What goes into engaging?
Engaging content – the content of a message needs to go further than just being biblical and relevant. It engages by being intriguing, or attractive, or gripping, or vivid. The narratives of the biblical text or sermonic illustration need to form images on the screens in listeners’ hearts. The poetry of the text needs to shape images and stirs emotion in the listeners’ hearts. The content needs to captivate listeners so that they can’t help but want to listen.
Engaging delivery – the delivery of a message needs to go further than just being clear. I’ve heard clear preaching that sent me quickly to sleep. Engaging delivery engages through energy – energy appropriate to the situation and personality of the preacher, but energy nonetheless. Energy is not just about hype and volume. It is about facial expression, gesture, movement, vocal variety, eye contact. The delivery, whether big and demonstrative or measured and deliberate, needs to engage the listener in some way.
Motivation to Engage – the key, though, is neither content nor delivery. The key seems to be at the level of the preacher’s motivation. If the preacher is prayerfully prepared to the point that they share God’s heart for the listeners and the situation, then they will want to connect. If they want to connect, then both the content and delivery will tend towards what it should be in order to engage the hearts of those listening. The real issue here is not technique, but motivation for relationship. If the preacher is connected to God and wants to connect with the listener, there is a good chance that they will. And if they do, then there is much greater chance of the preaching being life changing.