This preaching pastor has a lot of longings when it comes to his preaching. To mention a few:
- I want it to accurately reflect the truth of the text I’m walking through.
- I want its content to show the simplicity, mystery, and glory of God and the Gospel.
- I want the sermon to find its way to the Gospel.
- I want it to be engaging, never boring.
- I want it to change the world of its listeners, if not the world at large (I realize how naive this sounds, but the Bible gives me no other choice but to desire this).
Two things I’ve read and listened to this week on preaching and communicating have me in a battle with pragmatism (“do these things to make the effectiveness of your sermon better”) and hyper-spirituality (“don’t worry about how you structure your sermon … God will take care of it.”). Another way of framing this tension is this: where does the pursuit of excellence in one’s calling cross the line from faith into pragmatism?
The first thing I listened to was at Vitamin Z’s blog. In the video below, Nancy Duarte explains that all great speeches have a specific shape or pattern. They alternate between “this is what is” and “this is what could be” (plus other things, but that’s the gist).
It challenged me to revisit my sermon this past week and see if it was possible to explain John 10:7-11 with this structure. I found it very challenging, not only due to the fact that it was well outside my traditional paradigm for writing sermons, but also because the text isn’t written with that pattern. How does a pastor expound on a passage in a manner contrary to the passage’s own pattern? Do not the literary forms of the Bible matter, and therefore dictate the structure of the sermon?
And yet, is that any excuse to be boring or pay no attention to such pragmatic insights? Just because Paul often came across as boring is no excuse for me to pay no attention to my structure and delivery, right?
Consider this quote from Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” (p. 82):
“Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God’s powerful word. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation, “This is what this verse means. Do you see that meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself, your Creator and your Lord, is saying this to you today!” Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching.”
Grudem asserts that the power of preaching is not found in rhetorical skills … “lofty speeches or wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1). I wonder what Nancy Duarte would say to this?!
Perhaps the preacher’s goal should be to faithfully explain the truth and right application of God’s Word and let God change the world. I believe he would do a disservice to the reality of the truth he preaches if he did it in a boring way and/or relied upon the pragmatic aspects of sermon preparation to make sure it’s not boring.