Why is preaching so hard?

I’m preaching this morning. Granted, I don’t preach all the time. I speak publicly quite often, but preaching is different. I can give an hour-long lecture on a research topic as a matter of course. Putting together a twenty-minute sermon, however, is something I have always found very difficult. After some reflection, I’ve decided the reason for this is that the gospel message, in all its simplicity, points us to the inexpressible, unfathomable nature of God.

At one level, the message of the gospel is very simple. There are a few ways in which we can put it, but normally it goes something like this: God loves you, Christ died for you, and through Christ, God offers you new life now and into eternity. Our proclamation involves filling out the details. Those pesky details, though, really do matter, and that’s where things become more difficult.

We should be cautious in being too quick to say that we know or understand the nature and character of God. Yes, there are a great many rich theological claims that the Church has made through the years. When we make positive claims about God, we are engaging in kataphatic theology. There is also, however, apophatic theology–theology rooted in God’s transcendence and which cannot be expressed in words. A deep encounter with God will be both kataphatic and apophatic. Yes, we will be able to make remarkable claims about God, but we also realize that those claims will always fall short. Our preaching, writing, theological reflection, blogging–any way we go about trying to tell people about God–will always fall short.

When we preach, then, we are trying to express in words something about the nature and character of God, which is finally inexpressible. This is why, I think, preaching is so hard.

Those of you who preach every Sunday certainly have my respect. Good preaching never comes easy. It requires prayer, research, contemplation, and a considerable amount of time. There is, however, nothing more important than proclaiming the message about Jesus. That’s what I’m going to try to do this morning, even as I realize that my words will only point to a reality much greater than anything I could ever express.

3 thoughts on “Why is preaching so hard?

  1. Every congregation is different but it surely does not help that at the church where I grew up, and in, there were always a few helpful souls that aimed to give good advice yet came off a bit sharper than they intended–not to mention the sharper souls who did not come off as well-meaning as they wanted to.

      • It’s terrible, really, but I think one part of that perception comes from how much polish goes into the sermon itself. Even a casual sermon glitters sharply and that causes people to infer things about the speaker–‘if he can speak so lucidly on God, surely I can say whatever I want to him.’

        One easy fix seems to be showing them this blog. ‘hey, look, I am just a guy.’

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