Preaching is hard. It is hard for several reasons.
First, preaching involves dealing with an ancient text far removed from our world and culture.
Second, a preacher’s audience is at different levels of mental and spiritual maturity. Crafting a message that meets various maturity levels is a skill that is learned over time.
Third, a sermon must have a good blend of content and presentation. A well-crafted sermon delivered in a mono-tone voice or a poor crafted sermon delivered in a dramatic voice will both fail.
Finally, a preacher’s audience, in their natural state, cannot truly grasp the message—they need the Spirit’s enabling.
Because preaching is hard, preachers are subject to criticism. Usually three types of criticism are received.
- The preacher is compared to a person’s favorite celebrity preacher. No local preacher will measure up to a favorite Internet celebrity preacher.
- The preacher’s competence is questioned. Accusations such as: “You didn’t explain the text correctly,” or “you misunderstood the Greek word,” or “you should have said it like this,” are a few of the many criticisms of competence a preacher hears.
- The preacher’s motives are questioned. Accusation, spoken or unspoken: “You are preaching for financial gain,” or “you are preaching to earn a reputation.”
When you criticize a preacher in any of the above three ways, you are questioning his livelihood, training, experience, church affirmation of his calling, and his desire for the work. The point is that it should take a lot of time and prayer before criticism is hurled.
Having said this, preachers are not above criticism. Preachers make mistakes. And they must own up to them.
Moreover, in one sense, you should be a preaching critic. That is, you should have a discerning mind when you listen to preaching, examining the Scriptures to see if what the preacher says is so (Acts 17:11).
Then how can you be both critical and yet not have a critical spirit?
Here are three questions I recently read that provide some help.
- How close is your relationship with the preacher?
The general rule of thumb should be that the more you know the preacher and the more relationship you have with him, the more criticism you should share. Or, the less you know the preacher, the less criticism you should share.
- How serious is the issue in question?
Is the issue a clear gospel issue? Is the issue black and white? Or is the issue on the level of preference and wisdom?
- Are you trying to prove yourself in search for affirmation?
Are you merely trying to show your intelligence, genius, or skill in handling the passage? What is your motivation for critiquing the preacher?
Much more could be said, but the bottom line is this: love your preacher; test his message. In that order.