“The sheep judge the shepherd,” wrote the founder of the LC-MS, C.F.W. Walther. The standard, he would go on to write, is the Word of God. The sheep are not allowed to judge the pastor by any other standard. Indeed, any other standard would point to vanity. The preacher’s voice, hair, looks, family, etc etc etc are not valid standards by which to judge him.
The truth of the matter is that there is no more visible–or important–place to see the shepherd’s faithfulness (or lack thereof) than in preaching. The standard of the Word of God is important especially in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod which, God be praised, has been kept from sinking into doctrinal malaise through a low view of the Word of God. As I write, I thank God to be part of a church body which wholly and totally confesses the Word of God as inspired, inerrant, and thus, authoritative. This places us in a woeful minority in American Christianity. We pastors should thank God every day, though, that we have a Word not our own on which to stand and preach.
Sadly, all of us pastors fight a sinful nature too. We can fail to stand on that Word. We can fall into preaching ourselves more than the Word. We can try to stand on style more than substance, stories rather than God’s story, politics rather than proclamation. Sometimes we preachers preach as if the Word was a hindrance to us…or just a springboard from which we can talk about what we want to talk about. Even the best of preachers, the most faithful of proclaimers, can fail in this matter.
Thus it is absolutely critical not only that pastors preach faithfully and well; it is important that they teach the sheep the Word and what to listen for in a sermon. The truth is that a stylistically bad preacher may have many good things to say. The truth is that a great public speaker may be guilty of not preaching faithfully. The truth is that what many people mistake for good preaching is not. The truth is, also, that many people do not understand what good preaching is.
Ergo, this post is the first in a series of posts written to teach and help the members of St. John’s, and any others who may read them, to understand what a good sermon really is. I’d like to structure these posts around three basic characteristics of faithful preaching. Faithful preaching is textual; it is law and Gospel; it is centered on Christ.
I hope you will read these constructively and certainly put me, your pastor, through a constructive “judging” based on them. God bless the preaching of our pastors and God bless you in hearing the Word through them.