And they were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes.– Mark 1:22
I can’t listen to most religious preachers teach.
It’s not just that I question the religious premises of most religious teachers. It’s that the delivery is often so faked and inauthentic that it’s sickening.
I can tell when a preacher is phoning it in, and I understand how it could be all too easy for someone with the admittedly difficult job of preaching to choose to fall back on a familiar “act” with lots of melodramatic voice changes, buzzwords, crowd-pleasesrs, and cringeworthy jokes.
So it’s not bad preaching that’s remarkable. It’s good preaching that is. And when I grab a pew at my church, I believe that’s what I’m hearing. Even when I don’t fully agree with something said, I know that it’s coming from a place of depth and feeling. I (even as a skeptic) walk away feeling like I’ve learned something new and worthwhile about Jesus, or the apostles, or the Bible.
How can a preacher develop that depth and feeling?
I’m a secondhand observer, but I have some thoughts.
First, people who are struggling to understand an idea or a text or a person need nuance – yes, because the truth is nuanced, but also because they want someone to work alongside them. When a preacher is clearly wrestling (live) to define and clarify a difficult concept or call, that struggle connects to the struggle in her listeners.
Second in importance is mental independence. A sermon is no fun and not much help if you know that it’s simply going to repeat a party line. It takes a certain amount of skepticism, openness to new interpretation, inclusion of multiple perspectives, and resistance to popularity to come up with a good sermon on a piece of Scripture. If a preacher is honest about his/her disagreements or discomforts with a text, it makes the message all that more credible.
Final, and perhaps most important, is a life beyond the “churchy” stuff. I have a pastor who lives in the real world. He doesn’t have the luxury to cloister himself away. He doesn’t have hordes of assistants or clingers-on. He takes care of his kids, mows his lawn, he goes to the gym, he plays guitar. This normal life context grounds him in reality and the culture of his hearers. It gives him perspectives and sources of inspiration (and better yet, motivation) for digging the valuable truths from Scripture.
If more preachers tried these fundamental changes, I think we’d see more people paying attention to what they have to say.