The centerpiece of pastoring is typically identified with preaching. It's the church activity that garners the largest audience, evokes the highest praise, and fuels the hottest critiques.
Preaching God's word has always been important to the Father—He called us to it, provided the material for it, empowers us in it, and holds us accountable with it. Maybe that's why the word preacher, and other forms of the word, appear 150 times in scripture. That's even more than church and hell combined.
To the average congregant, the standard yardstick for measuring good preaching is whether or not it comes with flair or charisma—can the preacher keep a crowd interested, or awake, or entertained? Another benchmark is response—when fishing for men, can the preacher fill up the net?
But those can't be true measurements of success, or else Elmer Gantry and Billy Graham would be members of the same fraternity.
Great preaching, it would appear, has little to do with the size of our talent and everything to do with the size of our God. Proclaiming His word is not a show and tell for a man or his gift.
True preaching is simply the spoken word opening the written word to proclaim the Incarnate Word.
A head count in the prayer room is no success-indicator either. Otherwise Hudson Taylor was a flop and William Carey bombed. Nor is a long sermon necessarily a great sermon. Jonah's reluctant preaching led to a national revival, although his message contained only eight half-hearted words. But, for that audience, those eight words were enough. "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown."
The greatest of all preachers was Jesus himself. Whether the crowd was large or small, they were amazed. "Where did this man get this wisdom?" Yet, on occasion, His preaching got skewered as the crowds turned sour.
In one service the SRO crowd dwindled from thousands of band-wagon believers to twelve frustrated disciples. They wanted more palatable preaching—verbal souvenirs for their long journey. But Jesus didn't preach to fulfill their expectations or to quell the critics. He gave them what they needed, not what they wanted.
Homiletics in the 1st century followed a very predictable pattern—rabbis quoted other rabbis. Jesus broke that mold, He quoted God. In fact, He recounted verses from twenty-two Old Testament books. He named twenty different OT characters. He spoke on forty biblical themes. The scriptures were His authority. He used them liberally and they pierced deeply.
Each word was carefully chosen, and He openly credited His sources. "I have given them Thy words."
Jesus was more concerned with the heart of preaching than the art of preaching. His messages were laced with help and hope, using every opportunity to connect His audience with God.
His words were never reduced to liturgical fluff. They were theological yet practical, simple but rich, colorful but deep. Children, the world's most transparent critics, loved to sit in the front row, and He loved having them. Women were moved by His gentleness and respect. Men were challenged by His focus and authority. And, wherever He went, the people followed.
He must have heard the same questions a million times, but they never got old. He gave His all, and left nothing in His study.
Charles Spurgeon preached like that. "I have known what it is to use up all my ammunition. Then I have, as it were, rammed myself into the great Gospel gun and fired myself at my hearers—all my consciousness of sin, and all my sense of the power of the gospel. There are some people to whom that kind of preaching connects when nothing else does, for they see you are communicating to them not only the gospel, but yourself also."
Preaching is a demanding work. Oh, but what a calling! Be encouraged in it.