As a preacher I am solicited, more often than not, for services that will help me preach better. As a young, green pastor I’m grateful for many of these ministries. I increasingly want to be sharpened in my ability to deliver God’s Word to God’s people. However, there are some that seem, perhaps unintentionally, to reduce preaching to merely a form of communication. As if preaching is the same thing as giving a sales presentation or a talk to the local PTA. Now to be sure, those types of addresses are important and the people giving them should strive to improve.
But preaching, my friends, is different. It’s a holy calling. It’s a sacred duty. This doesn’t mean the preacher preaching is better than the guy giving the sales presentation and it doesn’t mean he’s higher in some sort of Heavenly food chain. It just means that preaching is a separate, sacred calling that pastors would do well to take seriously (James 3:1). God has ordained the human method of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21) as a primary method by which God’s people are to hear, learn and grow.
To be sure, preaching is communication, but that’s not all it is. It’s not less than communication, but it is certainly much more. I think we’re mistaken when we sort of overanalyze the presentation of preaching–and use the unregenerate seeker as our speaking critic and say things like, “You can’t speak for more than 20 minutes.” Or “You should have only one singular point and you shouldn’t belabor your people with detail.” Or when we teach preachers to load their sermons with illustrations at the expense of good exegesis.
Now here what I am saying. We shouldn’t be boring, dry, and too somber. We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. We shouldn’t drone on for 17 hours. But, preaching has to rise above the level of stand-up comedy. It has to have more weight than a Toastmasters speech. We must preach to feed God’s flock (1 Peter 5:2). And we must preach what God’s people need to hear more often than we preach what they want to hear.
So, we preachers can learn much from communication gurus, both inside and outside the church, but we shouldn’t ape everything they are selling. Our sermons can draw from other types of speech, but should always look different and feel different. Yes, it should seem to the hearer that we are preaching to them. We shouldn’t so faithfully bow the knee to technology and trends and flashiness that we lose the mysterious nature of God’s Spirit flowing through a man communicating the Word to God’s people. What people get from our Sunday services should be so thoroughly distinct from what they get on TV or at the club or in their staff meetings at work. The church on Sunday should reflect another world altogether.
As a young preacher, I’m looking to grow in my preaching. I have a long way to go. I’m grateful for those who can sharpen me. But I learn most from guys who have, for many years, faithfully done what I am doing now: preaching God’s Holy Word.