Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Good Preachers are Hard to Find

Once, sometime in the last few years, I was listening to a sermon while visiting a cute little very traditional church that struggles to survive year after year. The pastor was an okay speaker -- not fabulous, but he didn't stink up the place as I've known many to do. I happened to consider at that moment that, very likely, the vast majority of Christians in America probably spend the bulk of their Christian walk under the shepherding of just such a pastor.

And I realized then how much of an anomaly my own recent church experiences have probably been. I have been blessed to attend churches here in Sioux City, and in New Jersey, and in Springfield, that had pastors who were really excellent speakers. Great teachers and motivators. They were good leaders in other ways, too, but I don't think I have always had the appreciation I should have for how good they were from the pulpit.

Andree Seu wrote today about the importance of a sermon ending with the preacher telling us "how to do the thing". So true. All too often, a preacher will speak with great passion about the value of, say, walking in the Spirit, convicting and convincing his audience very effectively. But then he will stop short of explaining to his flock how exactly they are supposed to accomplish this wonderful thing. They impart the knowledge without instructing in the skill.

I wonder if this is because preachers are trained in seminaries, by seminarians. I haven't had any direct experience with seminaries, but I gather that they are much like the rest of academia. They're all about theories and concepts and doctrines. But the leap between a doctrine and it's practical application is one they would rather avoid, because it's more messy . . not so cut-and-dried . . lots of gray, fuzzy matter.

Not that I don't see tremendous value in the clear understanding and communication of concepts and doctrines -- believe me, I am quite the academic at heart. But people don't usually come to Jesus for doctrine. They come for life-change.

Anyway, I realize I have been very blessed to be shepherded by some amazing, gifted men whose focuses were life-change. Who seemed to start their sermon-planning by examining the needs of their people, not the index of their theology textbook. That's probably why their churches are not cute little very traditional churches that struggle to survive year after year.


Keith said...

Just don't confuse good preachers with being good pastors. There may be some correlation but those who you deride for their lack of presentation skills may be wonderful counselors, teachers and "ministers" to their flocks - and that could be exactly what that congregation needs.

GJK said...

Yeah, I realize that. Being a pastor is a much bigger job than the preaching, and many less-than-strong preachers are excellent shepherds in other ways. I was specifically speaking about preaching here. There are preachers out there with excellent "presentation skills" who are still speaking above the heads of their congregation and missing that crucial element of application every week.