This Sunday, I take to the pulpit once again (it’s been about six weeks since my last sermon) so I’m pretty excited. Preaching is something I truly like doing- both in terms of the research which goes into it, but also the delivery- there’s a bit of a rush when you’re “on” (which of course is more frequent for some than others). This week I came a post by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church- 16 Things I Look for in a Preacher, which caught my attention as I had preaching on my mind. While he makes some very valid points, I was a bit concerned by a few things that come across in there.
The list stems from a “competition” Mars Hill put together, in which the “winner” gets to fill in for Mark Driscoll when he’s away- a Mars Hill version or American Idol (Driscoll’s analogy not mine).
#16 on the list is ” ‘It’ is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in you and through you. I’m looking to see if you have it. I can’t explain it, but I know it when I see it.” This final point in his list almost seems like it’s tacked on at the end. After 15 points concerning approaches to preaching, and an encouragement to look good, he drops this tiny mention, which I believe is the most important part. I’m sure Driscoll likely didn’t mean it quite this way, and I’m hoping he would agree that the Holy Spirit must be first and foremost in preaching. But it gets lost in the shuffle here, which is the last thing you want in the pulpit.
The other issue is that it puts all the impetus onto the preacher, almost giving the hearers a cop out- “Oh, the pastor didn’t have ‘it’ today.” “The pastor’s cowlick kept me from getting the point.” “The pastor didn’t take me on a journey, he just made some points.” The pastor is called by God to bring the word to his people- and you can take a horse to water, right? I get that Driscoll is trying to convey a point that the pastor has to be intentional about finding means to engage the congregation, but I fear that if everyone used Driscoll’s approach sermons can become a consumer product, and pastors start to become slaves to the demands of the market. The best communicator, orator is our pastor/preacher, not the one called by God. The ones who do what the hearers want become heroes and celebrities, and the rest become unemployable. Megachurches meeting in buildings that look like universities or malls or art galleries become the norm, as everyone flocks to those pastors who are “hip”, whether or not God has called them. I gave up on attempting hip a long time ago, so I become expendable in the preaching ministry of God’s Church- or at the very least I have no business preaching at Mars Hill.
Driscoll takes a lot of criticism for some of the things Mars Hill does. I have no doubt he authentically loves Jesus Christ, and is seeking to serve faithfully. However, I have my concerns. Personally I would never join Mars Hill, myself. The anonymity of the megachurch is unappealing. I prefer the closeness of a truly connected community. I love the fact that I know the people to whom I speak. I know something of what they need to hear, and hopefully they trust me enough to say what they need to hear and not what they want to hear. And most importantly, the congregation sees in me the person God called to be here. They probably could have found a better communicator, or someone more qualified. But preaching does not happen in a vacuum. Context matters. As a pastor here at Centre Street, I have the call to respond to God and bring the things which God has in front of me to them. While my methods may make me more or less effective depending on how I present the things on my heart and mind. But, they look to me to bring Christ (to Driscoll’s credit, #1 on his list is “Tell me about Jesus”).
My point is this- what should we “look for” in a preacher? When we look for things in preacher, like I see in Driscoll’s post- we turn him or her into a product- a product of more or less value than the “other guy”. The second we start picking preachers based on whether or not the preacher can get his/her sermon across the way we like, we risk ignoring God’s call to be authentic and obedient. For several years I attended a Church which was further from home, and not the best from Driscoll’s categories. But I felt the need to be truly joined into that community- they were my people. When we called a pastor/preacher, we may not have picked the best preacher, but the one whom God selected- a person who was able to connect to the context, and respond. Whether the sermon lived up to our preferred style was irrelevant. The sermon is there for the encouragement of God’s people gathered. Should we ignore style? Probably not. But Paul put people to sleep. He wouldn’t get the job at Mars Hill. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount breaks more than one of Driscoll’s points. I doubt I’ve ever given a sermon which would qualify me for the job. But oh well. Maybe I’m just being to hard on Mark. He’s trying to do it in good fun. He’s passionate about good preaching. People are hearing the gospel.
Reading over what I’ve written so far, I feel like this has become a bash the innovator kind of post. In fact I did find Driscoll’s list somewhat helpful if framed properly. There’s a considerable amount of helpful content there. Obviously we should always read things with our brains engaged- thinking critically about what people are saying. This list if framed as a list of hermeneutical tips for pastors can be helpful, but as an interview method it misses the mark.