Sunday, April 28, 2013
How to Make Your Pastor a Better Preacher
Many people lament the state of preaching today. Much blame is laid on seminaries, and a good bit on the preachers themselves. But it is possible there is also fault in the pews.
It is true that seminaries in general do not do a good job of producing preachers. Homiletics (instruction in preaching) is usually one class among dozens. Greek, Hebrew, church history, systematic theology, pastoral counseling, Christian education and other topics vie for a piece of the seminary pie. Even at a seminary with good preaching instruction, a student may have his preaching evaluated half a dozen times. So while some bad preaching may be the seminaries’ fault, they can hardly be blamed for all of it.
Preachers, too, are culpable in regard to bad preaching. Inadequate preparation is probably the leading culprit, though no doubt other things are involved. A pastor, especially a solo pastor, has a lot of responsibilities. Counseling, membership training, officer training, home and hospital visitation, demands of family and home, all take away from preparation time. There is, of course, laziness, carelessness, perhaps distaste for the work of preaching itself. It may be also that a pastor has a low view of his preaching abilities, and doesn't see any way to improve.
But it is possible that the people in the pews bear some of the responsibility for poor preaching. For one thing, congregations appear too tolerant of bad preaching. This may be for a number of reasons. First, many churches do not pay well, and the congregation may be harboring a “you get what you pay for” attitude, even if they may not recognize it. Or they may excuse bad preaching on the basis that the pastor is a really nice guy, or he’s so faithful in visitation, or he’s a great counselor. It may also be that many Christians simply have no idea what constitutes good preaching. Here is a minimalist definition of good preaching: a dealing with the biblical text that explains in a clear and orderly fashion what the text means, and identifies how it may be applied in the life of the Christian. Good preaching does not have to do with clever turns of phrase, though a good preacher may use them. Good preaching does not have to be loud (though all the people should be able to hear). Good preaching should be at least somewhat animated, and will be if the man is gripped by his message, but the amount and kind of animation will also depend on the personality of the man.
But aside from recognizing bad preaching, and refusing to put up with it, what can a congregation do to make their pastor a better preacher?
First, congregations must pray for their pastor. Pray that he has adequate time to prepare. Pray that he himself prays over his studies. Pray that he will be gripped by the message of the text so that it becomes his message as well. Pray that he would have wisdom and insight to be able to see clearly how to explain and apply the passage.
Second, congregations should prepare to hear the sermon. If you know ahead of time what passage your pastor will be preaching, spend time during the week studying it and praying over it, so that you are ready to hear it explained and applied. You’ll be surprised by how much this will help.
Third, congregations should both praise and criticize their pastor’s preaching. Now this is a touchy subject. I don’t mean here the meaningless “Good message, Pastor” as you’re going out the door after the service. I mean something like “Preacher, I really appreciated how you explained the difficulty in that passage” (and then be specific). Remember, too, that you can’t say much as you’re going out the door. If you were really struck by the sermon, send him a short email. As for criticism, do that in person. Set up an appointment. Prepare for it. Don’t make it a personal attack, but tie it directly to the sermon. “Pastor, I think you misapplied that passage.” Don’t take it personally if he doesn't agree with you. And don’t be a constant critic. Diligent pastors are all too painfully aware of their shortcomings in the pulpit, and too frequent a diet of criticism from the congregation is discouraging.
Fourth, the congregation should be patient, especially with a beginning preacher. It can take time for a man to get comfortable in the pulpit. It takes time for him to develop in his sense of what is important in a passage and what is not. As children do not go from taking the first step to running easily at top speed in the space of a day, a pastor takes time to develop his preaching skills. But if, over time, he shows no improvement; if his sermons remain garbled messes, impossible to follow, then send him packing. Don’t keep him because he’s a nice guy. Don’t keep him because he’s faithful in visitation. Send him packing because he’s not doing the primary job that he is called to do. Your congregation deserves good preaching and will die without it.