It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Early in 2009, during the season of Epiphany, we spent several weeks talking in worship and Sunday School about call—that is, the compulsion we feel sometimes to get up from our regular lives and follow God.
While I may have thought initially that we were introducing a new concept, turns out most everyone around here could articulate some kind of reference to call—from, “I feel that God is calling me to go to Africa and work in a medical clinic” to “I feel a tug on my heart to think about the spiritual side of me, so here I am”. However it is that people articulate that sensation of encounter with God, it readily became apparent that folks around here were already thinking about it and had been for some time. In fact, they were not messing around . . . and they wanted answers.
So, in response to all of this, the church staff dreamed up a formal way to explore call this fall, from the perspectives of our own callings as professional ministers. We all know, of course, that not everybody wants to pack up and head to seminary, but we didn’t know how else can you really talk about the call of God, if not personally. Thus was born Preaching: An Introduction, a six week class at Calvary in which lay people sign up, receive a syllabus, complete assignments, participate in class, and each write and preach a sermon.
The thought behind this, of course, is unashamedly Baptist: taking the concept of priesthood of the believer to a whole new level, turning everybody into a preacher! And, anyway, I preach at them every single week . . . seems to me they should have the opportunity to return the favor or inflict the same pain or whatever you want to say about that.
So, last week we began, with 8 animated participants who will prepare and preach sermons this fall. Some are seminary-trained; most are not. Nobody in the class preaches for a living. The topic of week 1: What Is Good Preaching?
It sounded like a good topic to me, a reasonable place to start talking about preaching. But as the class got closer I started to wonder why I seemed unable to formulate an easy answer to what seems like a pretty obvious question.
I mean, of course I know what good preaching is. Right?
I think I know when I hear a good sermon, and I totally know when I’ve heard a bad one—in fact, I’ll confess I’m a pretty critical sermon-listener.
So, my inability to get down on paper exactly what good preaching is was a little baffling to me. I mean, I preach almost every week. I would hope that whatever it is I think good preaching is might result from my efforts every once in awhile.
I did manage to come up with a few ways to describe good preaching, in my opinion. But what I learned in the process of trying to explain myself is something ELSE I believe about preaching: that good preaching is never formulaic—it’s alive and dynamic. So, I could give my opinion about what it means to be an excellent practitioner in the pulpit, but at the end of the day a good preacher always remembers that it’s the Spirit of God that weaves the melody in behind the words, plays it with feeling, and keeps us humming the notes even after the sermon ends.
So, here’s a little of me trying to explain myself, to put into words the mystery of text and Spirit and community and worship and God, the God who keeps showing up over and over again, and who loves us all with abandon . . . when the sermon is amazing and when the sermon falls flat.
- Good preaching addresses a specific context.
- Good preaching uses the text responsibly and honestly.
- Good preaching is more than one person talking—it’s rather a conversation between preacher and people and God.
- Good preaching doesn’t start or end in the 20 minutes it takes to deliver and hear a sermon in worship—a good sermon sticks with you somehow.
- Good preaching takes a preacher who believes what she’s preaching.
What do you think good preaching is? Now you try to explain yourself!