For preaching to be ‘good preaching’ it needs to be a word on a target. But if the preacher doesn’t know the target, he is unlikely to hit it. What this in turn means is that he or she must know his or her people. The more one knows one’s people, the easier it is to know what a word on target will amount to. Of course some preachers prefer the buckshot method– spray a variety things out on the audience and hope something strikes home. It’s like a game of paintball where you are aiming at moving targets and hoping something will hit them and leave a mark.
This is frankly never very good preaching, however good the intention and interpretation of the text is. A preacher needs to know his flock– period. Otherwise, when the message actually hits home its a flat miracle, like the virginal conception.
If you study the sermons in Acts carefully, you will discover they are each tailored to their respective audiences— the sermon at the Areopagus quotes pagan poets, and is different from the sermon in the synagogue in Acts 13 or the sermon to the Ephesian elders later in Acts. It is not enough to know your Bible. You also need to know your audience, especially if you are preaching to the same congregation week after week after week.
If the Word of God is a two-edged sword you need to know where to point that thing, and how to dissect persons’ lives with it. This only happens by accident if you don’t know the people. And please no excuses like “well I leave that up to the Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit shouldn’t have to overcome your ignorance of and arrogance about your people.
The second thing that helps make preaching good preaching is if the preacher himself or herself actually understands the text. I have heard some really bad preaching where the text was skirted, ignored, misrepresented, trivialized, and so on. There are ten ways to misuse the text for every one way it is properly used.
This of course means good sermon preparation is necessary. Good reading of good resources, good meditation and reflection on the Biblical text, good clarity of expression when you have grasped the meaning of the text, and so on. If your thinking is muddled about a passage, then by all means find another one you can be clear about. Muddled thinking leads to bad exposition and poor sermonizing. The issue is not usually ‘is the text clear’, but rather ‘is the preacher cloudy’ and doesn’t see through his clouds to the clarity in the text.
Thirdly, good preaching requires a depth of Christian experience most of the time. Young preachers are often fun to watch, especially when they begin to set themselves on fire— full of vim, vigor, and vitality, but too often their zeal is not according to knowledge much less according to wisdom.
This morning in chapel the 91 year old Dr. Dennis Kinlaw preached. It was one of the best sermons I’ve heard in a year or so…. drawn from: 1) a depth of understanding of the Biblical text, and 2) a deep well of Christian experience and maturity. The problem with burning raw pine logs is that there is still a lot of sap in them. It’s better to burn seasoned wood.