The Problem with Preaching– Part Four

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.

Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview, Part 2
Forward Thinking on “Reading Backwards”– Part Five
Forward Thinking on Reading Backwards’– Part Six
Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview, Part One
  • Ric Schopke

    Dr. Kinlaw has been seasoned wood from the time I first heard him, forty-some years ago. May the fire continue to burn brightly!

  • timsheets

    This was a great series! Thanks for doing it! Very helpful to a young pastor like myself. I’ve been listening to Dr. Kinlaw preach for some time and think he’s one of the most fresh and relevant preachers in our day and age for exactly the reasons you mention.

  • BenW3

    It’s not over yet. There are three more parts. BW3

  • Max

    So true about targets. Luther laid strong emphasis on separating Law from Gospel in preaching, you preach Law to convict your people of sin, and you separately preach the Gospel to your people (because we always need the gospel) to bring comfort, but you never confound or mix the two, otherwise you lay burdens on them they cannot bear. You don’t turn the gospel into a law of works; or law as a way to be saved. This is a major problem with evangelical preaching today and an important Reformation truth sadly neglected. Because of the strong emphasis on law with the Catholic church, the reformation focus on the gospel brought great freedom, but after a while Luther saw it was necessary to bring in the Law at times as the people were losing their grip on sanctity, and the sting of the law was absent to keep them in line, and also the gospel loses its sweetness without its complementarity. But he always endeavoured to maintain their separate functions.