A Reflection on Our Preaching
In his excellent book called Fundamentals of Preaching, John Killinger writes,
“The preacher’s first calling…is to love. Otherwise the preacher doesn’t understand community and has nothing to preach. We must love the community and love the people who belong to the community. It is not enough, if one wishes to preach, to be in love with preaching. It is not enough to be in love with the Christian philosophy. It is not even enough to be in love with God. We must love people and love God’s vision of the community. Then we can preach.” (see http://www.johnkillinger.com/Books.htm)
To love the people of the community is indeed our first calling. What is next most important?
No doubt each preacher would have his or her own idea, and perhaps our ideas will change over time. I would be happy to hear your ideas.
I would suggest conviction. To believe in what we have to say. Not to believe in the Gospel or the overall message of the Bible or of the Church, but to believe passionately in the message we have to preach this day to this congregation.
This doesn’t have anything to do with inspiration: whether we struggled to craft our sermon and felt that the Spirit had deserted us in the process, or sat at the keyboard and the words flew from the tips of our fingers with no effort at all—does that happen? Whatever the effort involved in producing the sermon, whatever shape or format it takes, we have to believe in it.
If we don’t believe that what we have to say is the most important thing we can bring to this congregation this day, then we need to ask, “Have I really anything to say at all?” And the answer will be, “Probably not.”
We need to believe passionately in what we have to say otherwise we will not preach with conviction. We must not just believe that what we have to say is true. That we shall (for our purposes here at least) take for granted. The question is not, “Is it true?” but, “Is it important?”
For example, it is true that Nicodemus went to Jesus at night. But, is it important? Is it important to your listeners that it was night-time when Jesus said, “You must be born again,” (John 3:3)? Probably not at all.
But what if we were to note that Jesus was willing to meet with a man at night to accommodate the man’s fears for his own safety and reputation? What if we were to emphasise that Jesus did not berate him for his fears but shared deeply with him? What if we were to declare that, in the midst of the man’s fears, Jesus opened the doors of the Kingdom for him? That fact, I would submit, is of immense importance to those who are fearful or who have all sorts of excuses for not meeting Jesus. Jesus will meet with you wherever, whenever.
Is what I have to say of great importance to my listeners? If it is, I will preach with conviction, people will want to listen, and they will respond to the Gospel.