I’m no expert in preaching. But I do it a lot, and I try to help young men get better at it. So while I may not be the world’s best preacher or a seasoned homiletics instructor, I have given a good deal of thought into what makes good preaching good.
It seems to me there are four indispensable qualities of good preaching. You can have faithful preaching without all four, but truly good preaching–the kind that resonates with people and the kind God tends to employ to bless his people and convert sinners–will have these four attributes.
1. Veracity – This is the more crucial quality. Without this, your preaching is not faithful. It may attract a crowd. It may win you applause. But it will not be good. Christian preaching must first of all be true–true to the text, true to the whole counsel of God, true in whatever else you say or cite. A seminary student or lay elder or new pastor may not be the most comfortable or the most gifted behind the pulpit, but so long as he says what is true and biblical, God can use that preaching.
2. Clarity – Truth is first, but if you say what is true but don’t say it so people can understand you, it isn’t worth much. Clarity means we pay attention to the structure, the flow, the pace, and the length of our sermons. Clarity doesn’t mean the congregation must remember your three points, but they should know what the text was about and what you were trying to say. If your pastor is true and clear, rejoice! You have more than many congregations.
3. Authority – This quality is easily abused, but without it, you are left with a fine sounding lecture. Remember, what surprised the crowds most about Jesus’ teaching was that he spoke with authority (Matt. 7:28-29). Good preaching sounds forth with certainty, not because the preacher is infallible, but because God speaks through him, making claims on people’s lives, declaring the truth with boldness, taking courageous stands where others cower in fear.
4. Authenticity – This is the hardest quality to describe and it takes the longest to acquire. I’m not usually a fan of the buzzword “authenticity,” but I use it here as a blanket to cover a number of ideas. Does your unique personality come through in preaching? Are you comfortable in your own skin? Do you have a connection with the congregation? Does your preaching sound like someone talking about the gospel or calling people to believe the gospel? Are you an advocate for Christ or a witness to Christ? Is there, to use John Murray’s phrase, personal, passionate, pleading in your preaching? This is what I mean by authenticity.
These four qualities are indispensable to good preaching, but some are more indispensable than others. The farther you go down the list, the harder the traits come. But the good news is it’s the top of the list that matters most. Veracity is a non-negotiable. After that, work hard at clarity. Then pray for Spirit-anointed authority. And finally, stick with preaching for at least five years, and you’ll start to grow in authenticity.