There has been some hullabaloo around the Synod over a couple of sermons. They featured Detroit pizza and a comfort dog, among other things. Sadly, the content of those sermons has been less of interest than the, well, visual images that accompanied them (gimmicks, if you are mean). I am not in a mood to heap scorn upon the preachers or to resurrect the whole issue. But I am of a mind to remind folks that the primary goal of preaching is faithfulness. It is not even connecting with your hearers. If we believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in faithful preaching, the Spirit will engage the hearers. In some cases, the best we can do is to get out of the way of the Word.
I am pretty much a failure at preaching -- at least according to much of what I have read. Every time I preach I think of things I could have said or should have said or how I might have said it all better (or more concisely). I seldom use illustrations but generally jump right into the meat of the Word for the day. I tend to preach bluntly and so it some times offends even though I do not try to be offensive. Maybe I am getting old but I am at the point of realizing that there are precious few moments in the pulpit and it is better to preach the Word and apply directly that to find witty or winsome or humorous ways of saying it. Because people do not listen like they once did, it is easier if I preach rather direct sermons in which the pathway is clear and not wandering words that need a road map to find your way from beginning to end. Where once I tended to shy away from the rather controversial things Jesus said, I tend to face those hard words of the Lord that sort of make you want to turn the end of the Gospel reading into a question, rather than a statement (This is the Gospel of the Lord?). I do listen to many sermons and read them. But the ones I tend to listen to and the ones I generally read are less literary creations than blunt, faithful, and direct preaching of the text. And in this listening and reading I have discovered that there are many great preachers out there. But to be an effective preacher, you do not have to be a great one. All you need to be is faithful.
I listened once to a member (not my own) who was complaining about their pastor's preaching. It is too long, too boring, and repeats itself. He does not know when to quit and it is clear he did not spend enough time preparing. Even when he preaches the sermons of others, he does not let their words stand but adds stuff that does not even make sense. Okay. I get it. But I asked the people complaining, Does he preach the Word faithfully, dividing Law and Gospel? Does he preach the Word textually, sticking close to the Word of God? Does he preach the Word every Sunday and every service? The grudging acknowledgement revealed that faithfulness was not enough. Now, I am not at all excusing the poor preaching and poor preparation of their pastor (bad preaching is more often the result of not preparing well or trying to do too much in the sermon), but.... What were the people expecting? Were they expecting more than faithfulness? Maybe that is part of the problem. Our people have been taught to evaluate preaching less on content than on style, less on substance than on literary or oratorical skills.
In the end, however, if you can get past poor preaching skills, I honestly believe most folks would prefer a reliable pastor who preaches honest sermons, faithful to the Word of God, and applies that Word to them in their own circumstances. . . over a star who left them spellbound every Sunday. I might be wrong in this but I don't think so. In fact, we have had some stars preach here and I have found it most rewarding to hear my people say they loved hearing so and so but they were even happier to listen to me Sunday after Sunday. Preaching is learned. Listening to preaching is also learned. Preachers need to bone up on their craft and their people need to learn how to listen as well. Together both will discover that faithful preaching, the Law and the Gospel, the whole counsel of God's Word, seasonally directed by the church year, flowing from the lectionary -- well, that is really good preaching!