From this report on the interview between Frank Skinner and the Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Skinner described himself as “a tough crowd” when listening to a sermon, and said that priests don’t try hard enough to make an impact when preaching’.
I say the same all the time, including occasions during both clergy conferences I addressed last week. Preachers have no clear feedback mechanism for learning when they preach well, or poorly; and they exercise a vocation that tends to be protective of one another (at least, face to face). I know of plenty of self-protective devices clergy use to explain the appearance of congregational dissatisfaction with their preaching: ‘I’m a propehtic preacher, so it’s natural that people will be uncomfortable’, or ‘They’re comparing me to their beloved former pastor’, or ‘It’s unreasonable to expect a great sermon every week’. (And it should be said that many congregations demand so much time from clergy that they have no basis for complaining if the preacher is ill-prepared.)
Still, one wonders what would happen if sermons were regularly reviewed by a good critic (or by an itinerant representative of the diocese/synod/whatever), or if it were permissible to take preaching as a strong ingredient in such gross indicators as rise or fall in attendance. What if the church were obliged to be honest about the plain fact that some preachers are not as good at their craft as are others? And what if the church recognised that some of the most prominent characteristics in selecting for ordained ministry, and then also for determining appointments, are not co-implicated with preaching skills? What if, to be blunt, ‘preaching well’ is not the norm, but a noteworthy exception?