Frequently at the end of a worship service, as church members greet their pastor on their way out the door, you hear these words, “Good sermon, preacher!” Sometimes when pastors get together and the conversation turns to church life, a particular pastor is mentioned, and someone says, “Man, he’s a good preacher!”
But what is good preaching?
Some may see it as being entertaining. Perhaps the speaker is a good storyteller or maybe can relate some humorous anecdotes. As a result, someone says, “That was a good sermon.”
Others view it mostly as being educational. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, relates a conversation he had with a member of a church that was liberal in their theology. Mohler asked him, “What should be the goal of a good sermon?” The man was puzzled by the question and replied, “You know, I’ve never really thought about it. I guess something to think about.” No mention was made of life transformation. No mention of catching a spiritual glimpse of the glory of Christ. Just something to think about.
While neither of these are unwarranted, I suggest to you that primarily a good sermon is characterized by faithfulness, both to God and His Word. The images in Scripture of a faithful preacher give us a clearer picture of what preaching is to be.
Preaching as stewardship. A common New Testament image of a preacher is that of a steward. Essentially, a steward is a trustee and dispenser of another person’s property. What a good preacher says every Sunday is not primarily from his own mouth but rather from the mouth of God, heard in the Bible.
In ancient times, a steward had authority entrusted to him. He was not independent but accountable to his master. Typically, he was given responsibility for a household to provide what they needed to eat.
Pastors are seen as stewards in the New Testament (Titus 1:7) Paul viewed his preaching ministry as that of a stewardship (Eph. 3:2-9). While occupying a special role as an apostle, Paul did not just apply this to himself but also to others (1 Cor. 4:1,6).
A steward did not provide for the household out of his own resources. The master of the house gave the provisions, and the steward distributed them. Good preaching is not essentially a matter of the ingenuity of the preacher, his creativity or cleverness. It is a matter of his faithfulness to the text of Scripture, evidenced in 1 Cor. 4:2: “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (ESV).
Preaching as heralding. There is another image in the New Testament of what constitutes good preaching. It is that of a herald.
In biblical times, a herald was a representative of the king. When the king had vital information to communicate to his subjects, he did not post it on the royal website. Instead, he sent his herald to verbally deliver the message. This role carried with it a grave responsibility. To misrepresent the king was an offense punishable by death. Yet the herald also possessed great authority. To ignore him when he spoke the words of the king was tantamount to ignoring the king himself.
As a herald of the Great King, a preacher must take seriously this matter of delivering the message exactly as intended. While a herald might do his best to gain the people’s attention, ultimately he was measured by faithfulness, not his audience’s response.
A good preacher is a steward and a herald, and a congregation’s expectations cannot biblically exceed this. Preachers need not labor under any burden but this: to faithfully deliver the truth of Scripture is good preaching.