My turn to do a month's worth of opinion pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm posting my BT article here. To check out the Baptist Times as a whole click here.
What do you want from your preacher? Recently this has been on my mind. I’ve been writing a new course on preaching. I wonder, if you had the chance to help train the next generation of Free Church preachers what would you want to say to them?
Obviously, what we want is not the real point. What matters is that students become the kind of preacher that God has called them to be. Problem is though I’m writing the course and I do have my prejudices. We all do. Can’t help it. Normally the best thing to do with our prejudices is to come clean. So here goes, some of the things I look for in my preacher.
I want my preacher to be a minister of the word. She should remember that she is not called to be a guru. I’m not interested in her own clever ideas. I want her to help me to hear what the Bible has to say. There are lots of places where I can get people’s opinions, but when I listen to a sermon I want to hear the Word of God.
On the other hand I do hope my preacher will have the courage to be herself. Thank God the old pre-sermon prayer, “Lord reveal yourself and hide the preacher” has gone out of fashion. That’s not how God seems to like doing it. Preaching uses people and people have personalities. God is quite capable speaking through even the most colourful of characters. Think Jeremiah. Think Ezekiel. Here’s the point: when God called you to preach, God called YOU to preach, so don’t stop being you.
However, the last thing I want is a preacher who thinks that personality alone will do. I want my preacher to be thoughtful. More than that I, want her to think hard, long before she opens her mouth. I want her to take time to study the text at a depth that most of us can’t manage. I want to know that she’s been conversing with others who have wrestled with that text. It’s dead easy. Read a commentary. The problem with too many sermons is simple to diagnose: they are shallow. They are not worth listening to because they have nothing to say.
Assuming my preacher has something to say, the next thing I want is for her to say it to me . I’ve sat through too many sermons where the person in the pulpit has been more concerned to talk about their subject than to talk to their congregation. I don’t want to hang around while you run through your ideas. I want to be addressed. A sermon is not an essay. It should make all the difference in the world that we’ve turned up. Respond to us. Let’s interact. You’ll have to hang lose to your notes but if you are not up for that then you’ve no business preaching. Email me your words instead and I’ll read them at my leisure.
I want my preacher to put her heart into it. If it’s not plain for all to see that it matters to her, why should it matter to me?
I want my preacher to care about words. Like a chef cares about her knives and a carpenter her tools. I want her words to zing and sing and soothe. I want flair, imagination and creativity.
I want my preacher to remember that hers is not the last word. She’s not shutting down the conversation. If she’s lucky she might just start one. After all she’s only a preacher.