Let’s be honest, most sermons today are terrible. They are boring. They ramble. They sound like bad imitations of high school book reports. Listening to a sermon today is often like listening to the teacher from the old Charlie Brown cartoons. And I believe the reason why preaching has gotten so bad, particularly in liturgical churches, is rather obvious. We do not have good preachers because we do not understand what preaching is for.
Like being a great cello player or a great center fielder, a great preacher is born with a certain degree of raw talent that then must be honed and trained in order for the preacher to reach his or her full potential. But in liturgical churches in the contemporary West, we see preaching as less important than other aspects of ministry. We assume that anyone can be a great preacher and that the honing of preaching skills ought to be relatively low on the clergy’s priority list, something to tend to once all the other fires are put out. We reap what we sow. We treat preaching like it is nothing, and thus it becomes nothing.
What I offer here are a few maxims on what makes great preaching. They are culled from my own experience both as a preacher and as someone who listens to sermons. I am no expert, and this list is nowhere near exhaustive, but it is a start. I hope that others will build on this. “Faith comes through hearing,” Paul says (Romans 10:17). It is no secret that the Church in the West is in decline, and I see no scenario for its revival that does not include a renewal of great preaching.