Everyone’s got an opinion about preaching. And when someone shares their strong opinion to a preacher right after she’s done preaching, what she wants to say is, “Look, do I come to McDonald’s and tell you how to fry chicken nuggets?” But she doesn’t say that, because she is a good person.
And yet the reality is, there are really bad sermons out there. Sometimes a preacher doesn’t care anymore. Sometimes a preacher cares too much about the wrong things and makes a super-relevant cool sermon with no substance. Sometimes a preacher has become numb to placating the crowds and doesn’t remember how to challenge people. Often, a sermon is bad because it lacks clarity about why the gospel matters to a sinful world.
In The Large Minutes, John Wesley offers this commendation to Methodist preachers:
WHAT is the best general method of preaching?
To invite, to convince, to offer Christ, to build up; and to do this in some measure in every sermon.
The most effectual way of preaching Christ is to preach him in all his offices [Prophet, Priest & King]; and to declare his law as well as his Gospel, both to believers and unbelievers.
Let us strongly insist upon inward and outward holiness; and, with this view, set forth Christ as evidently crucified before their eyes; Christ in all the riches of his grace, justifying us by his blood, and sanctifying us by his Spirit.
Always suit your subject to the state of your audience. Choose the plainest texts you can. Take care not to ramble, but keep to your text, and make out what you take in hand. Be sparing in spiritualizing or allegorizing. Let your whole deportment before the congregation be serious, weighty, and solemn. Take care of anything awkward or affected; either in your gesture, phrase, or pronunciation.
Preaching is difficult, no matter how many times you’ve done it before. But every sermon should clearly offer the fullness of Christ to unbelievers who do not yet know of God’s love for them, and for believers who think they’ve heard it all. Every sermon should balance the challenging call to holiness in tension with the wonders of God’s infinite grace and mercy. It’s a huge task for the preacher to face week in and week out. It is also a huge task for the congregation to set aside our own judgments of what appeals to our senses and listen first for the word of God being proclaimed in our midst.
I’ve lately been inspired by these words from Wesley: “If we could once bring all our preachers…uniformly to and steadily to insist on those two points, ‘Christ dying for us’ and ‘Christ reigning in us,’ we should shake the trembling gates of hell,” (“Letters to Charles Perronet” [Dec. 28, 1774]). As I get my sermon ready for this week, pray for me and for preachers everywhere to keep the main thing the main thing.
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. – Eph 6:19-20, NIV