Good preaching should be biblical, clear, engaging and relevant. At first sight we may be tempted to think that only the first, being biblical, is a theologically driven goal. At first sight we may feel that being clear, engaging and relevant are more pragmatic goals. I disagree.
There is a theological foundation for each of the goals.
When we preach we can be more or less clear in both content and delivery. We can be organised in our material to help our listeners follow us, and we can be easy to understand in our delivery: through our diction, annunciation, body language, expression, and so on. It is easy to think of clarity as a pragmatic issue. It is more than that.
When we preach we can be more or less engaging in both content and delivery. We can offer content that seems aloof and tedious, or content that is captivating and connecting. We can deliver our messages in a manner that feels odd and distant, or we can speak with a contagious enthusiasm and energy for the preaching event that arrests our listeners’ attention and holds their interest throughout. It is easy to think of being engaging as a pragmatic issue. It is more than that.
When we preach we can be more or less relevant in both content and delivery. We can launch distant content over the top of peoples’ heads, or we can target our content into the very nitty gritty of our listeners’ lives. We can deliver in such a way that listeners have the sense that we don’t care, or in such a way that they know we are relevant and so is our content. It is easy to think of being relevant as a pragmatic issue. It is more than that.
We should be clear, engaging and relevant for theological reasons. God is a good communicator. His ultimate communication was in the incarnation, the human to human dynamic that makes our union with Christ possible. We speak as human to humans, as representatives of the communicator God, the incarnating God, and so we represent him not only in what we say, but also in how we say it. Nobody cares about the listener being able to follow, knowing it is for them, and wanting to listen, as much as God does. As his representatives, therefore, we should be stirred toward ever-growing clarity, engagement and relevance in what we say.