Earlier this month the KiwiMade preaching forums were held around the country and I was privileged to participate as one of the preachers in Auckland. Our text was the temptations of Jesus in Luke 4, but given the occasion it may have been more appropriate for us to preach on Daniel in the lion’s den! It was a daunting challenge: preaching to an audience of preachers, preaching on the same text as three other preachers on the same day, and being publicly reviewed by a panel of preachers. Thankfully the panellists didn’t have buzzers so we were each able to make it through our messages uninterrupted! It was a great experience and one that I’ve drawn several reflections from on my own preaching journey.
The greatest impression I came away with from the day was a renewed appreciation of the diversity of preaching styles and methods. It’s so easy to get blinded by our own preaching model to the broad ways in which God’s word can be effectively proclaimed by different people. Among the sermons at the Auckland forum we had deductive, narrative, contemplative and a crossbreed. We had pacers, standers and a beautifully devotional message preached from a wheelchair. Some sermons were highly illustrative, others imaginative, others more teachy. From the one passage, the four sermons travelled in four different directions, yet each of them remained faithful to the text. Jesus’ temptations produced a variety of rich reflections, ranging from comfort for those in spiritual dessert places to caution for those tempted to compromise with the world. And through all of these ways and means, Scripture was faithfully preached and Christ was made more fully known.
I was reminded that there is not one right preaching model. Yes, there are some non-negotiables: preaching should be biblical, Christ-centred, clear and sincere. And there may be approaches to preaching that are better suited to congregations as an ongoing diet. But we each have to find our own preaching voice and become comfortable in our own skin.
Then there was the whole issue of receiving feedback. As Geoff New put it on the day, “sermons are birthed, and we treasure them like our children.” So it wasn’t easy subjecting my ‘baby’ to the critique of others, especially in front of the whole room. But it was a really valuable process. The panellists were forthright in their comments, and I had to fight the urge to become self-defensive at times, but they were genuinely helpful. It is rare to receive that calibre of feedback in preaching, beyond the one-liners you get after a church service. These were very thoughtful comments, both at an exegetical level (from the Lukan scholar on the panel—thanks Sarah Harris!) to remarks about structure, flow and delivery. At times the panellists disagreed with each other (not quite X-factor, but close), which in itself was an insight into how messages are heard. Something that jars with one person is warmly received by another.
All up I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was challenging for me personally, both leading up to and during the day, but it has been strengthening for me as a preacher. And I hope that all those of us who attended came away nourished by Scripture, encouraged by the kerygma of the gospel, and renewed in our calling as preachers.