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What makes good preaching?
Finding Your Sweet Spot
What makes good preaching?
I seek to grow and improve in my preaching Christ and Scripture to my church family. So every Sunday night we do a Sunday review where we share commendations and critiques of the sermon (and other parts of our morning and evening gatherings).
It is easy for me to believe that to improve my preaching I should get better at my exegesis, theological reflection, introductions, my transitions, my illustrations, my outlines, my pauses, my conclusions, and my applications. If I just improve in each of these parts my preaching will inevitably improve.
But that’s not necessarily true. There may be a better way and mentality for growth and refinement.
Seth Godin insightfully contrasts “benchmarking” with what I’m calling “sweet spotting”:
Benchmarking involves looking at every element of what you offer and comparing it to the very best element of any of your competitors.
So your door handle is as good as the Audi’s, and your brake pedal is as good as the Volvo’s and…
It’s pretty tempting to do this. Who wants any element of what they do to be inferior to a competitor’s?
That’s almost never what makes something remarkable (it’s worth noting that the Ford Taurus was the car that brought benchmarking to my attention… who wants a Ford Taurus?).
What makes something remarkable is a combination of its internal synergy—the parts work together as a coherent whole—and its imbalance. Something about it is worth talking about. Something about it is hard to find. Something about it helps us achieve our goals if we talk about it.
This uneven allocation of attention is the opposite of benchmarking. Find your edge and go over it.
A sweet spot is “an optimum point or combination of factors or qualities.” Sweet-spotting is finding and strengthening the optimum point or combination of factors and qualities.”
I have noticed that the best preachers are not best at every element of preaching but really excel at some point of preaching that makes them exceptionally special. What do you like about John Piper’s preaching? You could ask the same of Tim Keller, Mark Dever, Thabiti Anyabwile, D. A. Carson, Alistair Begg, HB Charles, Francis Chan, David Platt, and many, many others. Generally speaking, what I personally love most in receiving good preaching is a robust following of the text’s flow and argument (Piper), a sense of the goodness of Jesus Christ in the gospel (Keller), a weight of God’s glory (Piper), an effective word to non-Christians (Dever, Keller), and a strengthening of the collective responsibility of us following Jesus as a local church (Dever).
I don’t think one should worry about checking all of these boxes in a way that excels in each. We must find our sweet spot. Let’s study the passage and let the words, tone and goal of the text in canonical context control the words, tone, and goal of our sermon in contemporary and congregational context. And let’s keep trying to grow in our preaching by soliciting meaningful feedback and taking note of tangible ways to try to improve as preachers.
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