Well, not really for preachers only, but for anyone interested in preaching which, I trust, will include most anyone who subscribes to “You and God.” I have been a lover of preaching ever since I first set foot in a Bible-preaching church at the ripe old age of six. It has been my privilege to have been a preacher starting unofficially when I was about 18 years old. What I am going to share with you is nothing original with me, but is some of the best advice I have collected through the years directed to preachers who desire to become more effective in preaching. I hope you will be blessed, if not benefited, by this post.
Haddon Robinson, a teacher of homiletics, says there are three kinds of sermons from the perspective of a listener: “Those I can’t listen to, those I can listen to, and those I must listen to. One of the greatest sins of a sermon is for it to be boring. For communication to be effective it must be verbal, vocal and visual. Movement, animation, humor, intensity and good illustrations are all part of a good sermon. To be effective with an audience, a sermon must have first been effective in the preacher’s life. Longfellow once said, ‘A sermon is not a sermon unless I feel my heartbeat.’ This should be true for the listener and the speaker.”
Dr. Bob Kelley was a faithful pastor for 43 years before being called home to heaven in 2006. In 2007, Sword of the Lord printed an article by Dr. Kelley entitled “The Greatest Lessons I have Learned as a Preacher of the Gospel.” Here are a few of them: (1) Your best sermon is your family; love your wife, and teach your children to stay close; (2) Empty wells produce dead cats and dry leaves—personal devotions are a must to prevent burnout and keep a fresh presence of the Lord; (3) Love people as they are, rough edges and all, and never, ever give up on them. (4) You do not get what you want in life, you get what you are—character matters. (5) Never, ever lose your burden for souls; (6) Guard your tongue; (7) Learn to calculate what is worth making an issue over; learn the difference between convictions and preferences. (I will share more of Dr. Kelley’s life lessons in a future column.)
Dr. Robert McCheyne was a great Scottish pastor. A visitor to Dundee, Scotland, attempted to find someone who could share some memories of the great preacher. He found an old man who had known the pastor and his preaching. “Can you tell me some of the texts of McCheyne’s great sermons?” he asked.” “I don’t remember them,” said the old man, shaking his head. “How about some of his striking sentences he uttered, or some of his best sayings?” “I’ve forgotten them entirely,” was the reply. Greatly disappointed, the visitor in desperation said, “Don’t you remember anything at all about him?” “Ah,” replied the old man, brightening, “that is a different question. One day when I was a laddie playing by the roadside, Robert McCheyne came along and, laying his hand upon my head, said, ‘Jamie, I’ve been to see your sick sister. I’m always glad to see her and help her as I can.’ Then he paused and after looking a bit into my eyes added, ‘And, Jamie, I’m very much concerned about your own soul.’ I’ve forgotten his texts and grand sermons, sir, but I can still feel the tremble of his hand and see the tear in his eye.” It’s obvious, but a lesson we dare not lose: Preachers must love people, all kinds of people, without qualification, loving them for Christ’s sake even as He loved us and gave Himself for us.
Next, preachers must love to preach! That’s what God has called you to do. It must ever be your primary concern and foremost passion. One man of God put it this way: “I would rather preach than do anything else in the world. I would rather preach than eat my dinner or have a holiday. I would rather pay to preach than be paid not to preach. It has its price in agony, sweat and tears; and no calling has such joys and heartbreaks, but it is a calling an archangel might covet. Is there any joy like that of saving a soul? Any thrill like that of opening blind eyes? Any reward like the love of children to the second and third generation? Any treasure like the grateful love of hearts blessed and comforted?” (Samuel Chadwick)
Rev. George Ridout lamented the weak pulpits of his day: “We are suffering today from a weak pulpit and pointless preaching. We have clever speakers but few prophets; we have too few fearless speakers for God and truth. We have the best paid and best educated ministry but too much of it is popular, flabby and insipid and stirs neither heaven or hell. We sadly lack men to whom the pulpit is a throne of power; we have too many men flying kites of superficial thinking instead of men whose utterances burn and whose sermons scorch the wicked. We have too many who coddle the saints and fail to collar the sinners. The American pulpit needs a great awakening.” One might guess these were words of a contemporary commentator on the pulpits of America, but George Whitefield Ridout lived in the Toronto area, where he was a lawyer, judge and businessman in the early 1800’s. His concerns for the pulpits of his day are still apropos two hundred years later!
(More on preaching in a forthcoming installment of “You and God.”)
“Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim.4:2)