Don’t blame the preacher?

Photo by iowa_spirit_walker

Jonathan’s doing again what he does best. Stirring! This time he tackles the myth that preaching in NZ is bad. Suggesting sensibly that Kiwi preachers are probably on average no worse that any other nationality. Which is doubtless a huge comfort to all you Kiwi preachers, but must be a real worry to the rest of the world ;)

OK, crude rude and highly unfair joke out of the way, Jonathan’s stirring slags off several groups I belong to:

  • I preach (in NZ usually) should I be offended that he has to work so hard to claim that I’m no worse than the global average?
  • I teach at a seminary, and boy did JR slag off people like me. Apparently we are forever fostering the myth that all preachers are terrible, wouldn’t know a Bible if one fell on their foot, and have an obsession with being trendy.
  • I also sit in the pew, sometimes for what seems like hours listening (or catching what last year were trendy micro-sleeps) to sermons.

JR’s practical advice in the post: The Social Location of the Preacher and the Blame Game is aimed at all three of me:

1. If you are a biblical preacher teach your congregation what biblical preaching is and how to train their preachers in it and let them train you! (and make sure you are actively training others)

Yes, yes, yes, that’s right. I’ve learnt heaps about preaching from the people at Balmoral Baptist Church over the last 18 years, and quite a bit from other people I’ve preached or ministered to elsewhere too.  I hope I’ve also (often, maybe even usually) modeled decent preaching, and faithful, sensible approaches to biblical hermeneutics also…

2. If you are an academic adopt a different preacher each year, be nice to them and encourage them in their preaching of scripture.

I am sorry, I’m not arrogant enough to go out and “adopt” a preacher, but I do try to talk (to anyone who shows the slightest evidence of interest) about what I think makes a good sermon. And over the years I’ve also written in the NZ Baptist a number of rants on the subject, from an early castigation of the blasphemy of “relevance” when it takes priority over real biblical content, to a more recent claim that I could sum up good preaching in one word: sharp.

3. If you are a frustrated congregant pray for your pastor and talk to him or her gently but matter of factly about what is missing from the sermons.

The praying and talking make sense, but “what is missing from the sermons”! You’re joking Jonathan, surely? I wouldn’t attend one of those “Christian” entertainment centres where the preacher fails to make an attempt to proclaim the word from Scripture, so nothing “is missing from the sermons”. The problem is the opposite. Almost every sermon I hear would be twice as effective if it were half as long.

To cure that problem all you need to do, preachers, is spend an extra hour preparing. And most of you can easily save several, since you spend too long already “crafting” your words. Instead cut ruthlessly till all that is left is the essential message. Done :)

Actually there is one serious confession, and one (other) serious piece of advice I’d offer:

  • The confession: far too often when I preach I am content to show people what the Bible says. That is not enough :( Tell any human a “rule” and they will almost instantly discover “good reasons” why that particular rule, though good in principle, does not apply to them.
  • The advice: is simple, apply the Scripture to a number of differing people. (These application stories can be fictitious, though true is even better.) Make the stories “real” and people will identify with the characters, and apply the “lesson” to themselves. A smart neat and effective use of human nature (we are empathic animals who love responding to stories).

6 comments on “Don’t blame the preacher?

  1. DAVE GOODE

    how many preachers in NZ has he heard preach?>?????????????????

  2. jonathan 'the slagger' robinson

    As usual Tim you are too quick to take offence! Careful exegesis would show that I only claimed a percentage of academics are like that, not all, and i don’t recall writing anything about biblical football or fashionista scholars, you must have just added that bit from your own troubled conscience? ;-)

    But thank you for your link and robust riposte.

    I don’t think it is arrogant to take an interest in a preacher and encourage her or him. But i was talking to those academics who are “arrogant” enough to blame the poverty of preaching on the preachers. Personally if anyone, academic or otherwise, took it upon themselves to give me regular feedback on my sermons i would be absolutley delighted, so i make the probably mistaken assumption that other preachers would be also!

    As to the length of sermons, in the churches i have been part of in NZ, medium length (25-35 min) sermons have been the norm and i think have met the needs of the congregations i’ve been part of better than the short 15-20 min sermons i used to preach in London. But i know i wont convince you on that score. But most preachers, me included, preach to the time that their church is used to, again usually by an accident of history rather than a deliberate choice by the preacher.

    pax vobiscum

  3. tim

    Ah! Irony! I do love irony :) On the length of sermons I reckon over 25-35 mins (actual real clock time, not what the preacher thought it would take sitting in their study) is already a bit long. I can’t concentrate that long on one voice, can you? Really? But those I hear more often weigh in at 35-40 and that’s WAY to long.

    IF sermons were more often more interactive longer and even more complex would be fine, but if I lectured for 30 mins I’d lose the class, the only way to keep people listening long is to engage with them…

    We have lived in the age of TV (and even Internet) too long for the old “gold-standard” sermon length to still apply.

  4. tim

    Oops, Dave, your comment was held for “moderation” and I saw it after Jonathan’s. While both J and I are immigrants we’ve both heard the odd Kiwi preach over the years. How would you put it, havinbg heard many more?

  5. jonathan robinson

    It is a peculiar sort of irony, because you have ampified and added to the implicit irony in my own post and made me say one thing i would never say and another i have never said! but that is ok, no publicity is bad publicity.

    As to Dave Goode, how many preachers have you heard outside of NZ, and if you have travelled how have you decided which churches to go to? And even if it was particularly bad in NZ would it still be fair to blame the preachers alone for the state of affairs? (see my blog post!)

  6. Delorme

    What I have found works is assigning members of the congregation topics for a talk that they can give to the congregation. It helps them grow through study and public presentation and makes the meetings more interesting.