Thoughts on the Way Home

Monday, June 09, 2008

Preaching or Giving a Speech?


Courtesy of Kirk Wellum at Redeeming the Time (a site worth bookmarking):

Recently I was reminded that there is a difference between preaching and giving a speech, just, as there is a difference between expounding the Bible and talking about the Bible. And, yet, these things are often confused. A good sermon should not sound like a valedictory address, nor should you be able to close your eyes and think you are listening to a public speaking competition. There is more to good preaching than a carefully crafted beginning and end, an organized middle section and makes a point then gives an illustration or tells a joke to keep the audience from losing interest, and so on, until the time is up.

Preaching, while structured and organized to some degree has something of the moment about it and therefore it is not entirely predictable. In the proclamation of the word of God there is an ebb and flow, an urgency, that comes when the preacher is conscious of the presence of God and the greatness of the message he proclaims. It would be foolish to say that there is no room for full manuscripts in the pulpit for the simple reason that there are many examples of great preachers who have used them. But generally sermons should not sound as if the person is reading from start to finish, nor should they sound as if the preacher is more concerned to remember the words they have memorized, or the clever crafted sentences they have put together, than the actual message of those words.

This kind of talking is too clever by half and it smacks of a verbal performance which is antithetical to what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5: "And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power."

Closely allied with confusing a speech and a sermon is the problem of merely talking about the word instead of actually expounding what the word says. It is sometimes staggering how little biblical content is found in the monologues of those who fancy themselves preachers of the word! Few errors have more devastating consequences because the power of heaven is not found in our words but in God's word. We are complete fools no matter where we graduated from, if we spend our time telling our stories, patting ourselves on the back, working hard to sound learned and clever, instead of laboring to disclose the gospel which is the power of God to salvation.

Sometimes when I hear what is reputed to be "great preaching" by the so-called "experts" I am not surprised that we are in such a mess in Canada! Much of the time such preaching is dull and lifeless and while it may evoke polite (embarrassingly polite) applause, it will never bring people before God the way great preaching should simply because very little of God has been presented to the listeners. We are told to "preach the word" (2 Timothy 2:2), not ourselves, our achievements, our insights, our reading, our writing, etc. May we in our day not just talk about great preaching and the great preachers of the past, but may we ask God to do for us what he did for them--namely, give us a life-transforming vision of himself.