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.