Better Ways to Deliver God's Word
Mark Labberton, director of the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching, Kate Bruce, chaplain and research fellow in preaching at Durham University, and Keith Drury who teaches ministry courses at Indiana Wesleyan, suggest the best ways to improve preaching.
Give Pastors Time Alone
Sermons stumble when preachers do not know the God they are proclaiming, the text they are preaching, or the audience they are addressing.
But here's a less obvious reason that sermons falter: when preachers don't know themselves. If John Calvin was right, that we cannot know ourselves for who we really are without knowing God, and that we cannot know God without reconsidering ourselves, then the preacher and the sermon inevitably reflect the presence or absence of this self-knowledge.
Let's consider, for example, how a preacher knows himself in relation to the basic affirmation that Jesus Christ is our Savior. Does the pastor live and preach as one who knows he needs the Savior? If the preacher loses track of the inescapable fact of his own real need to admit sin, mistakes, inadequacies, and inner and outer battles, then his preaching suffers.
The pastor needs to be gripped by the fact that he stands on the same ground as anyone and everyone to whom he preaches. If he doesn't know this to his very core, sermons can easily carry a tone of superiority, distance, and pretense, or simply fail to identify with those they are addressed to. If the fundamental honesty, not perfection, of the preacher is in question, his sermons will fail. After all, if the preacher seems dishonest about his own need, it's hard to trust him to offer us grace for ours.
Likewise, does the pastor live and preach as one who knows he has the Savior? The self-knowledge of the pastor needs to admit his need for the Savior, but also to embrace and show he knows the liberty, joy, and hope of the Savior's love.
Do pastors know themselves, in all their fallenness, to also be forgiven, chosen, and called? If they have failed to internalize this knowledge, then the sermon becomes yet another occasion for trying to make themselves worthy, to find redemption by their preaching, their personality, or their power. Then the gap between what they are experiencing of God and what they are encouraging others to experience of God can be disingenuous. Such preachers need the favor, the approval, maybe even the adulation of their people, and nothing cripples their proclamation faster than that.
Jesus Christ as Savior holds up a mirror for self-understanding. The preacher can then stand in the pulpit knowing who he is and who he isn't. By grace, we pastors are becoming more and more like Jesus, but on any given day we have much more in common with those to whom we preach.
When we know this in our hearts, and when we can appropriately express this to our congregations, we are simultaneously standing with our people and with our Savior. Then the sermon and the preacher are proclaiming the same message, and the impact is strongest.
Give Pastors Prep Time
I once heard the comment, "The average person would sooner stick pins in their eyes than listen to a sermon." A strong opinion—but I don't buy it.
Sure, no one wants to listen to endless, tedious, poorly delivered, unscriptural waffle. But I think we all long for a word from the Lord, be it a loving embrace or a kick up the backside.
CODEC, the research center connected to Durham University where I work, just completed a small survey on preaching. By "small," I mean 16 churches and 193 respondents, so universal extrapolation would be unwise. Nevertheless, 193 people have a right to be taken seriously.