I’ve written a short summary of Ron Boyd-Macmillan’s book on preaching. In this post I want to outline in more detail what he describes as the six elements of great preaching.
The six elements are drawn from this definition of preaching:
Reaching the whole person, where they live, with the word from above, in love.
- The oral test – do I have a central focus? The preacher has to reach the hearers and preaching is an oral event. ‘One of the most basic implications of this is that preachers must be careful to make a singular point in their sermons.’ Boyd-MacMillan suggests that the best piece of advice we will ever receive on preaching is this: ‘Speak up. Keep one focus. Make it memorable. Sit down!’ Apparently the more points a preacher makes to the audience, the more points the audience makes up. If preachers want the audience to get the point, they need to keep to one point or, if they make several points, they need to make sure that these serve the one overarching point.
- The experience test – does my sermon enable the hearer to experience the truth I am preaching? It’s about the whole person and not just the mind. The preacher should ask if the sermon that is about to be preached will create in the heart of the listener the thing that the preacher is going to talk about. Will that sermon on the love of God help to produce an experience of the love of God in the listeners?
- The reality test – am I describing the real world of my listeners (‘where they live’)? ‘To have credibility, preachers must demonstrate an understanding of the reality in which their listeners live.’ He gives the example of a preacher who was preaching on ‘do not be anxious’ and whose message, in Boyd-MacMillan’s view basically boiled down to effectively telling people to try harder. A preacher has to be able to provide an authentically complex description of reality; provide a genuinely insightful explanation of reality and reframe reality in a way that is biblically liberating. ‘… the preacher has to talk in such a way that the audience feels like they know how to live as a Christian in the real world.’
- The exegetical test – am I preaching the divine insight from the Bible (the word)? ‘Preaching ultimately is not merely relating the thoughts of the preacher, but the giving of the time-transcendent word of God as revealed in Scripture.’ It’s always interesting to read how a preacher goes about the work of preparation and under this heading, Boyd-MacMillan gives a window into his method of exegesis. ‘Exegesis begins with being gripped by the passage, and continues with checking that the truth we have been gripped by is in line with the author’s intent.’
- The grandeur test – am I preaching the greatness of God and addressing the universal questions of life (the word is from above)? ‘Most preachers do not set out to be trivial, but often they end up giving us coping skills to deal with life, instead of giving us God who is life.’
- The tenderness test – do I really love those to whom I am speaking? The preacher has the example of Jesus and his compassion on a crowd who were not merely hungry (they eventually needed to be fed), but were lost (sheep without a shepherd). The preacher needs to know that to see well is to teach well and to love well is to teach well.
While these are the main elements/tests – and they need to be drilled into the preacher – three others are suggested: the foolishness test, the theological test and the persuasion test.