Every pastor hears it time and again (some more than others, I suppose) and it could be that the parishioner is simply saying it because they have nothing better to say, but quite often it is spoken with great sincerity and a note of appreciation. To them at that moment my sermon was “Good.” The problem that I struggle with is just what in the hell does that mean?
The Cantankerous Critic recently gave me a book to read, which is not as delightful as it may sound. It turns out, books that he gives you have a way of truly messing with your head. The book he gave me was “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work“ by Matthew B. Crawford. Reading this has sent me into a quest of sorts to try and understand (and thereby improve) the notion of quality in the preaching task. See here is the great secrete, while at seminary we go through a rigorous instruction in crafting and delivering a sermon but we are not given much of anything that we can then use as a measuring of it’s quality outside of the handshake on the way out of church and the “Good sermon Pastor” line. But it get’s even worse! After a man leaves the seminary he will rarely, if ever, have any sort of serious discussion with other pastors about how to improve the craft of preaching. That is, we will have conferences on damn near anything relating the the church and her life but rarely anything dealing with improving the quality of our main task – preaching.
In Crawford’s work he discusses the objective quality of a man’s work. That is, when I attempt to tune the carburetor on my motorcycle I will actually know if it is “good” or not, because I will actually hop on the bike and head out to split lanes on the freeway and everything from throttle response to backfires will form the verdict. And it is that tactile proof of the good that is lacking in a task such as preaching.
So; how is it that we establish quality in proclamation? What do you mean when you tell a pastor that the sermon was “good”?