To make for interesting preaching.
Monkeys are interesting; hairy acrobats swinging with agility from branch to branch. Reality television is interesting in it's own strange way; cleverly produced drama plays out in psuedo-realistic circumstances. Scientific discovery is interesting; new facts and conclusions change, improve, and complicate life. Epic moments are interesting; the present stands still when history is made. Celebrity athletics is interesting; the combination of big money, big egos, and big talent captivates the world. Preaching is interesting; right?...it is interesting, isn't it?...why? What makes preaching interesting; truly interesting? While he may never be the most interesting man in the world, how could a preacher be demonstrably interesting? In almost every arena of life, the quality of interest is of great interest. The ever-interesting Jerry Seinfeld once emphasized that good writing is interesting writing, and interesting writing is what makes a show. But what about preaching? Maybe a better first question is: Should a pastor aim to be interesting in his preaching?...Should preaching interesting sermons be a mindful concern or not?
Should preaching be interesting? It's hard to imagine anyone who prefers uninteresting sermons. Someone who is superstitious about the Bible - such that he believes making a sermon interesting could detract from the self-contained sufficiency of Scripture to accomplish the purpose for which it is sent - perhaps this person would refuse to ascribe an "interesting" quality to good preaching. At the same time, there might also be some measure of wisdom in this concern. If "being interesting" supplants the sufficiency of Scripture in preaching, dangerous ground is trod. But if not, interesting preaching is a worthy aim, and according to some people it is even a necessity.
What Makes for Interesting Preaching? If we are agreed that interesting preaching is an important endeavor, we may press on toward the central question: What is so interesting about interesting preaching? Is it a preacher's ability to swing from the trees of rhetoric with acrobatic diction which makes preaching interesting? Perhaps interesting preaching is achieved by producing sermons which broadcast reality in shocking terms. Or must an interesting sermon include some clever discovery or an exhibition of novel oratory talent? Does this make preaching interesting? Certainly any of these, and many more strategies could accomplish homiletical intrigue. Yet we are most concerned with preaching as it is depicted in the pages of Scripture. What does God say, in His Word, is the way to prepare and deliver an interesting sermon?
Numerous passages of Scripture speak to this question, but one passage of particular interest is Philippians 2:3-4. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
It is true that sermons can be interesting because of various qualities, but above all the key to preaching "interesting" sermons, is the preacher's interest in his hearers. The Apostle Paul writes, "do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." In my experience this passage has been attributes most often to the way Christians treat one another; and it certainly applies to that exhortation. In addition to this application, the principle applies well to preaching. True interest is provoked - not only by strong analogies, rich illustrations, and engaging transitions - by taking genuine interest in the hearers. Faithful shepherding and capable preaching intersect. A skilled rhetorician is able to present the background, facts, and details within the sermon. But only the faithful pastor can engage the lives of his congregation; only he can apply Scripture to real-life interests. And this can only be done by the shepherd who knows his sheep: their hopes, fears, dreams, trials, troubles, temptations, conflicts, and joys. If you aim to preach interesting sermons, here are three ways to look after the real interests.
1. Connect with the congregants, and connect often. During the busyness of pastoral studies, plans, and responsibilities, one of the first priorities to drop is contact with church members. Abundant meetings, private offices, and overbooked schedules crowd out intentional contact and relationships with church members. Of course, most pastors have occasion to interact with members during Sunday ministry, but this time is not enough. Phone calls, home visits, lunch gatherings, and recreation help pastors better know their sheep, which in turn makes for preaching that is more interesting.
2. Counsel the members. Offering and practicing pastoral counseling brings to the preaching shepherd an intimate knowledge and wisdom. The careful shepherd will not make his sheep the topic of preaching illustrations, but he will use his caring knowledge of his flock to improve his sermons by invoking an interest in what he has to say.
3. Contemplate the church. It should not be assumed that compassionately interesting preaching can be accomplished simply by the execution of varied pastoral skills. Beyond them all is the essential character of pastoral thought. Do you think about your members? In the silence of solitary moments and periods of prayer, are the members on your mind? Do you recall recent conversations, anticipate important moments, remember the anniversaries of their lives? We must connect and counsel...and...think well of the flocks of God among us.
There is much more to say on the important and interesting topic of interesting preaching. For now here are three resources to help us all grow in these ways.
Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically by John MacArthur Summary: Encouraging, insightful, and challenging, Pastoral Ministry is designed for a new generation of shepherds who seek to lead with the passion of the apostles.
The Pastor as Counselor by David Powlison Summary: David Powlison’s “The Pastor as Counselor” casts a vision for how counseling operates as one primary aspect of ministry. This article is written to pastors—but it is for anyone interested in counseling. Pastoral counseling is distinctively and refreshingly different from popular understandings of what “counselors” and “counseling” are all about. That difference has many implications for how all Christians should think about counseling.
The True Nature of a Gospel Church by John Owen (Chapter 5) Summary: In Chapter 5, Owen details the work and duty of pastors. These duties are numerous and varied, and contain a helpful treatment of the pastor's privilege of knowing his flock.