John Stott listed five paradoxes in preaching. This is his list, but the comments are mine:
1. Authentic Christian preaching is both biblical and contemporary – We will tend to incline one way or the other. Are you strong on biblical studies but not so in touch with the world of your listeners? Or are you in touch today, but weak on the biblical side of this? The solution is not a 50:50 formula for study time. However, it would be wise to prayerfully take stock every so often.
2. Authentic Christian preaching is both authoritative and tentative – What is your dominant tone? Some have learned to speak everything with unsupportable authority. Others seem hesitant to suggest anything for fear of coming across too strongly. Listen to a recent sermon and take stock of your tone – there should be both authority and humility.
3. Authentic Christian preaching is both prophetic and pastoral – Preaching should speak into the world of your listeners with declarative and incisive authority, like a prophet of old. At the same time, these sheep really need the tenderness of a self-sacrificing shepherd. Perhaps it is worth asking some listeners how they feel when you preach? Is it helpful confrontation by the truth of God’s Word, or is it the tender care of God’s shepherd heart? Remember, they need both.
4. Authentic Christian preaching is both gifted and studied -I was always impressed by my teacher’s ability to both preach and teach preaching. He was clearly gifted, but he also really knew his stuff. Some good preachers are poor teachers of preaching. But that double dynamic is at work in preaching too – we need the gifting God has given us (personality, ability, strengths, etc.), and we need to do the work in our study to be able to preach well. Have you started to lean on your gifting to the detriment of study?
5. Authentic Christian preaching is both thoughtful and passionate – Just thoughtful becomes ponderous and sends you to sleep. Just passionate can get very loud and annoying when the absence of substance becomes obvious. Learn what you need to learn, but make sure that study, prayer and life work together in you to generate a passion for what you preach. They can’t catch the disease unless you are properly contagious.
I am not a fan of balance as a default, but in these five areas, I think Stott’s list is really helpful.
Here’s another resolution to throw into the mix as we head into another year. How about making a prayerful determination to preach Christ, rather than the tempting alternatives?
Here are some tempting alternatives that are worth dumping in favour of Christ:
1. Don’t preach issues – It is tempting to be contemporary and to buy into the idea that what people really value above all else is contemporary relevance. Of course the Bible is relevant and Christ is relevant, but that doesn’t mean your preaching should be salted with relevance like meat in a medieval barrel. Some preachers are so concerned about being up-to-date that they lose sight of what they have to offer those sitting before them. Relevance is important, but it is not the primary and central goal in preaching.
2. Don’t preach tips – Of course God’s way is the best way and lives gripped by the Gospel tend to work a whole lot better than lives lived according to the values of the world. And yes, the Bible does include a lot of insight into living life, both legitimate and moralized. But our job is not to be the weekly top tip provider for a people totally absorbed with successful living. There should be a huge difference between our preaching and the self-help guru folks may pay a fortune to hear on Friday night. The gospel will transform lives, but we are not called to be known as life coaches.
3. Don’t preach pressure – With all the best intentions we can easily undermine the work of the Gospel in the lives of those we preach to each week. That is, we want them to be thriving spiritually and in life. We know the damage sin can do. So we will always be tempted to twist arms and pressure people to conform to an outward Christianity. It makes church life easier if all messes are hidden and people act appropriately. But pressure preaching assumes that listeners can fix themselves and that we can achieve God’s goals without any meaningful involvement from Him. There will be moments where we seek to appropriately apply the pressure of God’s Word, but that is not what defines us as true Christian preachers.
4. Don’t preach yourself – Over the years our own flesh has this amazing ability to get used to being the centre of attention. If you are naive enough to believe the polite comments you receive after preaching are objective evaluations of your ministry significance, then you can easily start to buy into your own hype. Please don’t.
5. Do preach Christ – The Gospel is not a self-starting life-change program, it is good news that involves us introducing listeners to God in Christ. Don’t preach self-help programs, or church programs, or Christian morality, or even Christianity . . . preach Christ. Make 2015 a year marked by a weekly introduction to a heart-capturing Saviour!
Still I withhold the name of the book I’m reading, but I’ll share another thought nonetheless. In fact, I’ll quote (and if you want the source, you’ll have to ask, although I’m on vacation and won’t check comments until the end of the month!)
“Homileticians as a caste are extinct in the UK. Not in a single theological or Bible college, or university, will you find anyone whose full time job is to teach homiletics. Makes you think that there ought to be a homo homileticus on display in the British Natural History Museum, the skeleton of W.E. Sangster perhaps!”
Now I wouldn’t want to overstate the importance of this, but it is interesting. Equally I cannot validate the truth of this statement since I have not searched every possible faculty corridor in order to “prove” the extinction of this breed. The general perception, though, is that anyone can step out of their own discipline and teach preaching. Perhaps the general fruit of such a perception is worth evaluating?