I recently met with our Pastoral Residents to discuss preaching. Faithful preaching is a crucial part of a healthy church, and we are trying to help these guys develop into faithful preachers. This raises the question, “What makes up faithful preaching?”
I think there are at least four marks of faithful preaching and, conveniently, they begin with “P.” Additionally, failure to be faithful to each of these things leads in some disastrous directions.
1. Faithful to the Passage.
Faithful preaching accurately interprets the text of Scripture. This means that the author’s intended meaning for the passage is understood and proclaimed. Additionally, faithfulness to the passage means that the tone of the sermon is consistent with the passage (i.e. a sermon on a threatening passage doesn’t feel lighthearted) and the confidence of the sermon is in line with the clarity of the passage (i.e. dogmatic where the text is clear). Sometimes preachers emphasize ideas that are biblical but are not coming from the passage under consideration. This is not faithfulness to the passage.
Faithful to the passage also means understanding God’s missional purpose for the text. Scripture is not there just to proclaim truth or record history, but to shape a missional people who represent God to the world through their deeds and words.
Without this, preaching lacks authority. It’s powerless and relying on the preacher’s ingenuity rather than the authority of God.
2. Faithful to the People.
Faithful preaching lovingly understands the people in the audience. The context that people live in matters. A faithful preacher would not preach the same way with the same illustrations and emphasis to Jr. High students as he would to a group of young moms. One way I seek to address this in my weekly preparation is by creating a half-sheet with photos of people from our congregation. I look at this throughout the preparation process asking, “How would this sermon connect with him, her, etc?”
Without this, preaching is irrelevant. Not that the message is irrelevant, but it is perceived that way by people who don’t feel the preacher understands them.
3. Faithful to the Preparation.
Faithful preaching takes preparation seriously. Preachers vary in terms of how much time they want and need to faithfully prepare. The more experienced you are, the less time it often takes. On the other hand, Tim Keller suggests that preaching in a post-Christian society takes more preparation. Each preacher will have to decide what it looks like for him to create consistently strong sermons and then work to be faithful to that process.
Interestingly, I’ve heard a number of interviews lately with Peyton Manning and Mike Krzyzewski where people have asked them about how much time they have left before retiring. Both said that they “still enjoyed the preparation,” and that when that wasn’t enjoyable, they would stop.
Without this, preaching is shallow. It takes time and work to create sermons that apply the gospel to the heart.
4. Faithful to your Personality.
Faithful preaching is consistent with your personality. Each preacher is different and has a different personality. Justin Anderson argues that your sermon voice should be a notch or two above your regular voice but not so different that your kids can’t recognize you. One of the big mistakes young preachers make is imitating (often unintentionally) the preachers they listen to. Finding your voice takes time, but faithful preaching requires that you are faithful to who God has made you to be.
Without this, preaching is inauthentic. It feels forced and awkward if it is out of sync with your personality.
Every preacher I know wants to be faithful, and I’ve found this grid helpful for analyzing both individual sermons and the course of my preaching ministry over time.