July 16, 2011

What makes good preaching? (part 2)

I started a post earlier this week and published it two days ago about, "What makes good preaching?"  If you go to part 1, you can read a little more about where this came from and why I am blogging it.  To pick up where I left off, I want to quote the passage of scripture again, and then go on to point #3.

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
(2 Timothy 4:2 ESV)
3) I am going to hone in on those three words, "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" to continue answering the question, "What makes good preaching?"  The word reprove can mean to convict, refute, or convince.  There may be a bit of a legal-feel to this verb; a little like what you might see when a lawyer gives his closing statements.  One might put it this way: Good preaching is convincing.  This doesn't mean that I have to dramatize the proceedings or to simply talk in a convincing fashion.  It also doesn't mean that I have to suck a lot of wind while I'm preaching... The way many TV evangelists tackle the problem: "The Bible says... ah... In John chapter 3... ah... verse 16... ah..."

It means that I am going to appeal to a higher authority.  It means that I will use good reason and logic to draw out of the scriptures meanings and applications for our lives.  It means that I don't build my arguments on preferences or on how things used to be 50 years ago.  If I am going to talk about parenting, for example, the crux of my speech won't be, "... when I was a boy, things didn't used to be that way... We weren't allowed to talk to our parents that way..."  instead I will rely on scripture, "...'children, obey your parents in Lord, for this is right, honor your father and your mother...'"  It isn't that good preaching doesn't contain stories, Jesus used story telling in His teaching and preaching, but he used those stories to illustrate what the scriptures teach.

4) The next word in this passage is rebuke.  To rebuke someone is to lay a charge at their feet.  You might say, Good preaching is personal.  It can get in your face.  It hits home.

As far as I know, nobody in my congregation is struggling with drug addiction.  To my knowledge, there aren't any practicing homosexuals that are regularly attending my church.  It would not make any sense for me to spend the majority of my time preaching about sins that, to my knowledge, nobody within earshot is struggling with.  I need to make it personal.  In wisdom, I need to attempt to talk about and discuss struggles that I and my congregation may be having.  I need to challenge their (and my) sins.

Sadly, many churches do not do this.  A majority of the preaching is focused on the sins of others, leading many in the congregation to develop a sense of superiority ... called pride.  Many preachers end up sounding like the pharisee that Jesus described, who, having seen a sinful tax collector, exclaimed in utter arrogance, "Thank you, Lord, that I am not a sinner like this man!"  I must not preach this way.  Though it seems like it has a show of holiness, there is nothing good about this sort of preaching.

I must preach the gospel!  We are all sinners, and our only hope is the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  That cannot be forgotten, and all good preaching will ultimately preach Christ.

5) Finally, in this blog post, what does it mean to "exhort?"  A couple of Sundays ago I dealt with the word "encourage" during a service.  This is the same greek word that is being used here in this passage.  It is not a word that simply means that we say loads of positive things and build up your self-image.  It is a word that literally means to call to one's side.  To really encourage someone, you don't just tell them what they need to do and give them a pep-talk, instead you pull them up under your arm and say, "You We can do it."  It's a community word!

So, for lack of a better word, one might simply put it this way, Good preaching is encouraging.  Like I said though, it isn't that good preaching says loads of flowery, feel-good statements.  It is a call to action.  That's actually better, Good preaching is a call to action.  Unless you are ignoring the preaching or are simply not paying attention, you should walk away with something to do, something that the church is going to do, the community of believers together.  "Yes.  We will go home and work on our anger!"  "Alright!  Let's all go and be more Biblical in our parenting!" "Together now men, lets pray this week!"

There is more to this passage, so hopefully I will get to it in a part 3, but for now, take these three words together.  Good preaching will lay out a reasonable, believable, defense of the truth.  It will be done in such a way that you may walk away realizing an area where you need to change.  Then it will call together the members and the leadership of the church to face those personal challenges, because we are all in this together.