Up late tonight, thinking about the craft of preaching… obsessing a bit over the, well, “craft” is the best word for it. Dang I love preaching. And it is indeed a craft. A habit of the mind, and heart, and tongue. An art form. And man, when it’s at its best… I hear people these days talk a lot about how real transformation doesn’t happen during the preaching moment, that it only really happens in small groups and such, and I think to myself, “Then you’ve never sat under really good preaching.” Some of the most transformative periods of my life… when my faith was alive and expansive and sharp… those periods were so at least in part because of really good preaching I was around. And some of the worst periods of my life were times when “the word of the Lord was rare”, as one prophet said.
So I listened to a few of my messages from the past few months tonight. I kind of hate listening to them. Its so artificial. The “moment” in which a message is delivered can hardly be reproduced just by listening to the audio. The myriad of things that the Spirit was doing in the moment with the people… when its you and the people and your real life lived among them, and the Spirit speaking in all of that… it feels weird to put that under a microscope.
Nevertheless, I did that tonight, asking myself the question, “As a preacher, when am I at my best?” I came up with a short list, based on what I heard and remembered of my most recent preaching.
I am at my best when I am…
- Biblically focused
- Pastorally precise
- Comfortable within myself and effortlessly exposing the “core” of what God has done in me over the years, and
The phrase I wrote on my whiteboard to summarize what I think good preaching is was, “Deep, precise biblical insight stitched together with the very stuff of life.”
Then, in thinking more about those things, it occurred to me that what I was describing when my preaching is good is that “less” really is “more.” The words… “focused”, “precise”, “patient”, etc., imply fairly high degrees of comfort with eliminating, attenuating, reducing, boiling down, narrowing, stripping away. A laser is powerful not when it is wide but when it is focused like the head of a needle. A scalpel is sharp and able to do good work when its edge is infinitesimally small.
So with my preaching… it is at its best NOT when it is “wide” but when it is ridiculously “narrow.” When what is spoken from the Scriptures is done so on a razor’s edge of precision, and when the pastoral insight is fired off at specific targets like a sniper picking off his opponents… and then all of it “stitched together with the stuff of life”, including but not limited to the vast reservoir of all God has led me into and through. Stories and tales of fidelity and failure on the road of following Jesus.
And there you have it. I love preaching. I take it WAY seriously. Because I am utterly convinced that the “Word” of God always is creative… always makes alive… always nourishes and sustains and inspires and convicts… always twists oaks and levels forests… always separates and divides… and is ever capable of bringing new and ever more faithful and robust communities of faith into existence out of the very dust.
So I’m gonna keep working at this… : )
How about you preachers out there? What have you found? When are you at your best?