or The Art & Mastery of Preaching
“No man can be eloquent on a subject he does not understand”
In an attempt to set forth helpful principles, tools, methods or strategies for preaching that captivates listener it, I suppose, can be easy to succumb to the perception that a mere mastering of elocution can bring about the desired effect. While verbal and non-verbal proficiency is certainly inseparable asset of a competent speaker, I would first like to focus our attention to the cornerstone of the entire matter.
“Faust. What you don’t feel, you’ll never catch by hunting, It must gush out spontaneous from the soul, And, with a fresh delight enchanting, The hearts of all that hear control. Sit there forever! Thaw your glue-pot,— Blow up your ash-heap to a flame, and brew, With a dull fire, in your stew-pot, Of other men’s leavings a ragout! Children and apes will gaze delighted, If their critiques can pleasure impart; But never a heart will be ignited, Comes not the spark from the speaker’s heart.”
This snippet of Goethes script contains a divine truth for anyone with an aspiration to become a practitioner of the highest form of the noble exercise of public speaking – preaching. It can be of little importance to live a life of integrity for secular spokesmen as it is commonly understood that their occupation is merely their source of income. As long as one faithfully communicates given information the job is done. The yoke of a preacher is nonetheless different.
Preaching With Passion
As Faust suggests, preacher must have a spark in his heart. If one is to offer a memorable experience that sticks to the minds of his listeners he must bring passion to the stage. Yet this enthusiasm must not be learned or rehearsed, for only a true passion can ignite fire in a hearers heart. I believe this item almost cannot be emphasized too much. Reverend Doctor G. Campbell Morgan of Westminster Chapel says this about the importance of a genuine passion: “I am not arguing for mere excitement. Painted fire never burns, and an imitated enthusiasm is the most empty thing that can possibly exist in a preacher” Similarly Walter Kaiser asserts that a Word of God must thrill its proclaimer and dominate his whole being in order to have any effect on his hearers.
“From the beginning of the sermon to its end, the all engrossing force of the text and the God who speaks through that text must dominate our whole being. With the burning power of that truth on our heart and lips, every thought, emotion, and act of the will must be so captured by that truth that it springs forth with excitement, joy, sincerity, and reality as an evident token that God’s Spirit is in that word. Away with all the mediocre, lifeless, boring, and lackluster orations offered as pitiful substitutes for the powerful Word of the living Lord. If that Word from God does not thrill the proclaimer and fill [him] … with an intense desire to glorify God and do His will, how shall we ever expect it to have any greater effect on our hearers? (Kaiser 1981: 239)
In his general remarks to delivery J. A. Broadus too affirms statements made above that “…delivery does not consist merely, or even chiefly, in vocalization and gesticulation, but it implies that one is possessed with the subject, that he is completely in sympathy with it and fully alive to its importance; that he is not repeating remembered words, but setting free the thoughts shut up in his mind.” Only when preacher has a genuine relationship with God, walks with Jesus, seeks His will, and he himself has a burden for Gods mission in the world, he can expect to portray the above described passion as these giants of homiletics.
Preaching With Authority
Another reason why God must first raise a messenger to bring His message is the issue of authority. People have an inherent habit of comparing an instruction received, with an actual exercise of the one giving the direction. That is when a father rightly directs his son not to smoke, while smoking; it not only undermines his own integrity but also sends a mixed signal that is difficult to make sense of, especially when a child feels inclined to smoke due to curiosity or peer pressure. Following the example of Jesus who spoke “as one who had authority” [Mt 7:29] preachers’ life should as well aim to be “above reproach” [1Ti 3:2]. Pharisees could not use anything against Him and so had to invent lies to attack his credibility [Mk 14:55]. MacArthur affirms this by saying “The effect of an authoritative message is dependent on the character of the messenger. If the life of the preacher does not harmonize with his words, the resultant discord will drown out the message, regardless of how well prepared and delivered it is.” Pauls command to Timothy [1 Ti 4:16] is also a command to us, while we might argue that it is difficult, it certainly is a way to retain credibility, integrity and authority of what we bring to the pulpit. Without those will be people arrested by the obvious conflict in our words and by the reality of our lives rather than our carefully prepared and delivered sermon.
Preaching With a Map
For a sermon to come about as a clear message that a congregation can remember, understand and apply, a number of factors have to be in place. Some of these I have already mentioned while others will be explained under sections of “use of voice” and “use of body”. Yet, more subtle or for some perhaps more obvious challenge of clarity is to keep it simple. Not simplistic, but simple. Andy Stanley in his book “Communicating for a Change” compares preaching with taking people on a journey that has a one clear destination, timing and a road map of the different stops along the way. He also poses a question “why is it that people can spend over two hours on a Hollywood blockbuster with high levels of excitement until the very end of a last scene, but on Sunday morning we are often facing apathy and boredom already after first 30 minutes of preaching?” To step beyond the mere giving of information, he suggests we need to use much more time on inspiring and motivating our audience. “What is it that they need to know?” and “why do they need to know it?” answers to these two questions must reach listener fairly early in the sermon in order to create in him a sense of need for what is about to be said. Jeffrey Arthurs expressed that “modern theorists…argue persuasively that listeners grant attention only to what interests them, and what interests them is what they feel they need. Therefore, to bring the world of the text into the world of the listeners, the preacher must demonstrate early in the sermon how the truth addresses felt needs. All learning begins at the feeling level.” Therefore instead of detailed outlines intertwined with much marginal information we are advised to focus rather on one clear idea or a theme. Therefore should preacher be able to present a crystal clear itinerary of a sermon to be given, with a sense of a sharp finale to which a listeners only possible response will be: “I need to know what comes next.”