One of my favorite topics is preaching, and how it's to be done and heard. It's valuable for listeners to hear preachers think out loud about preaching and respond.
Preachers can be stubborn and overly sensitive about preaching. Understandably so, since hopefully the preacher is pouring his whole self into the exercise. If he isn't, he ought to go work as a mid-level functionary somewhere.
So, just some points to consider.
1.) We ought not to give up on preaching in our multi-sensory age, but neither ought preachers to underestimate how listening and processing information has been changed by media exposure. The spoken word is not dead and can still hold the attention. We are exposed to infinitely more verbiage now than ever before, and probably can process more information more rapidly than previous generations.
What we find difficult to do is to hold on to sustained logical and rational argument. We can lament this fact, and long for the good old days, or we can adapt to it so that we are heard. I prefer the latter.
The best compliment I think I ever got on preaching was from a mid-teenage boy who visited a few times at one of our churches. The mother of the girl he was seeing said, "He said he has never understood any other preacher, but he understands you." This is not because I dumb things down, but more because my own scattered brain leaps from topic to topic, addressing one issue from multiple sides, and trying to utilize some recapitulation of major ideas. I find this more difficult to describe than it is to do.
A fuller description of it can be found in Fred Lybrand's Preaching on Your Feet.
A closely related second point is:
2.) The Greco-Roman rhetorical form is dead, and good riddance to it. In popular parlance this is "three points and a poem." Formally it is: proposition and supporting sub-statements. Thanks to Fred Craddock and his fine little book As One without Authority for pointing this out. In case you haven't noticed, the Bible isn't written this way.
Unfortunately, expository preaching, in desiring to be a servant of the text, too often views the text through the lens of rhetoric. Craddock says: don't just preach the content of the text, but let the text provide the form, and the impact of the sermon. It is hard to unlearn old habits, but being true to Biblical form and impact is being true to the text, and tends to build interested listeners, too.
2.) Preaching needs to be a bit raw-edged. My mentor passed on what his mentor passed on to him, "It's no sin to be interesting." I would hasten to add it is a great sin to be boring! Preaching should be a bit raw. This doesn't mean it must be loud (though it can be). But, it is a whole person endeavor, and sometimes that is less than polished and refined. What it is, is real. This is why, I think, younger people are flocking to listen to Mark Driscoll and Francis Chan. There is no mollycoddling in what the say. For all their faults, the younger generation are tired of plastic imitations of reality that so satisfied their parents. They will take the truth straight up, thank you very much.
But, if you preach raw, baby boomers will be the ones to complain. Those who sought out the PCA because they loved Reformed arcana do not like their lives, priorities and comfort challenged. Many of them have not met Christ, but believe him to be merely a set of propositions, not a Divine Person (about whom propositions are true) whose white-hot living presence will inevitably drive out impurities. You can see the disconnect between their faith and life in the faces of their children, sad to say.
3.) Throw away your notes. Do it now. Nobody cares about your precise wordings, least of all the Holy Spirit, who longs to use you and all your hard work, but to free you from your love affair with your own words. Nobody ever commented, "I don't think he used his notes enough." It took me 12 years to do this. Do it now.
4.) There is no one style. A great preacher can be voluble, or soft-spoken, he can be brainy or relatively simple. I find myself profiting more and more from a variety of styles.
It used to be (confession time) I would mock the preaching of men like Ben Haden --not expository enough. Now, it almost brings me to tears.
Jim Boice preached like he was reading out of a commentary, but the Holy Spirit used it to great effect.
John R. de Witt scales the rhetorical heights, and set truth on fire with pathos and fervor.
Sinclair Ferguson is quiet and gentle, and yet tears the heart to bits.
A certain Manhattanite I shall not name preaches erudite, doctrinal, and Christ-centered sermons in a way that gains a hearing among post-moderns. One of the most memorable sermons I ever heard was him preaching on Abraham interceding for Sodom as a model of imputation. All of these men are preachers in the grandest sense, and all very different.
Another post to follow on what sorts of applications I think ought to predominate in preaching today, at least in my cultural context.