Good Preaching

I love this little article by John Wilson from the Wall Street Journal. (Incidentally, I once got to drive John Wilson around Grand Rapids as a volunteer at a conference he was speaking at, and he was delightful, even when I screwed up the parking lot directions and Gerald Ford Airport and took him on a third trip around the parking lot. He pretended it was fun!)

First off, I love the note that there is a long historic tradition of people church shopping and wringing their hands about the state of preaching. And looking for THE BEST preacher.

I’ve heard some wonderful sermons and real stinkers (I’ve also preached some wonderful sermons and quite a few stinkers a well). And I’m in what I think is a fairly unique position to have heard and served with preachers of all stripes: conservative; liberal; undefined; young; old; famous; obscure; big church; small church; high church; low church; innovative; traditional; 30-minute preachers; 15 minute preachers. And I have to say: there is no great predictor of of where the great sermons come from. There are definitely people who are more gifted preachers than others (and, often, someone who is more gifted in preaching lacks a bit some other area of ministry…).

What really makes the difference, though, is what I think Wilson is pointing to: people who are simply out there doing the hard work of preaching in a community. Month in and month out.

I once heard someone ask Barbara Brown Taylor, “Are there any great preachers out there you can recommend?” And she said something like, “The great ones aren’t really people like me who are out on the great preacher circuit. They’re often really obscure, just preaching over and over again in their congregations.”

In other words, just doing the work, taking it seriously, listening for the Spirit, listening to their community, and doing their best. It’s not really about technique or style or school of thought. (There is nothing new under the sun, right?) It never has been. Those things are helpful (and, I do believe that preaching can be taught and practiced; it’s not just something you are born with). But the real heart of it is the work and the connection to God.

It’s work, and it’s hard work. For those of us who love it and feel called to it, it’s good work.

And I suspect it’s always been like that, right from the beginning.