“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” -l Corinthians 1:21
By God’s grace, we want to continually grow as communicators of God’s Word. Whether in our exposition, mannerisms, voice control, theology, applications, illustrations, structure, or connection with the congregation, we can all mature as preachers. As one would expect, most of us young preachers have a lot of room for growth, and we seem especially prone to giving dry lectures rather than life-changing sermons.
In some ways, I am encouraged when I hear a young preacher give a dry lecture. It usually means that he is committed to expositional preaching. His engagement with the grammar, syntax, and original languages is clearly demonstrated in the pulpit. Thank God for young pastors who are committed to such study and maintain such a high view of the inerrant Word of God. Yet, as much as I am thankful for such a commitment, DRY LECTURES DO NOT BELONG IN THE PULPIT.
Lectures are not preaching just as commentary on a passage is not preaching. We are not downloading information or conducting an informational seminar when we preach. Good preaching aims to reach the affections through the mind. Unfortunately, lecture sermons aim purely at the mind with no concern for engaging the affections of the congregation. A sound preacher will learn the marked difference in these two approaches. I define effective preaching as the proclamation of biblical truth with passion, which is aimed at the affections of the people listening as they engage the truth of the text with their minds by the stirring of the Holy Spirit.
Some preachers’ sermons too often lack passion. As Richard Baxter pointedly states, “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.” We are handling eternal truths, and lives are weighed in the balance. The pulpit is not the place for passionless pontificating. People do not need theatrics or unnecessary drama, and neither of these has any place in good preaching. Rather, pastors need to be filled with love for the person in the pew -a love that manifests itself in passionate pleading. David Hume, an unbeliever, was asked once why he went to listen to George Whitefield, especially since Hume personally didn’t believe the gospel. Hume reportedly responded, “I don’t believe it, but he does.” A pastor gripped by the truth of the Word he preaches will reflect it in the pulpit. This type of preacher serves as a ready conduit, the people listening are likely to be gripped by that same truth.
Listen to good expositional preachers and study how they preach a text’s meaning in a way that engages the listener. You will notice that an experienced preacher often uses engaging illustrations and challenging applications. Perhaps, spend time working on illustrations. They shouldn’t dominate a sermon, but neither should they be absent. In the same way, labour or diligently to draw helpful applications from the passage. Aim for applications of the text that are as rich as the theological truth you are trying to communicate. As you seek to apply the Word of God, target different types of people in various circumstances. No sermon will affect every person, but over the course of time your sermons should minister to the proud, the fearful, the lonely, the doubting, the lost, the worldly, the afflicted, the skeptical, and the growing among you.
Remember your commentaries; likewise, Greek and Hebrew serve as useful tools, but they are tools. Like a good spade and pickax, they assist in bringing the jewel to the surface. They are not the jewel itself and should never be on display. Unfortunately, many congregations find themselves subjected to a technical commentary on the passage each week rather than a sermon. People in the pew seldom benefit from a pastor displaying his knowledge of Greek or Hebrew. It is the odd parishioner who will find his or her heart stirred by learning the intricacies of the subjective genitive. Aspire not to impress but rather to see Christ and his truth impressed on their hearts.
As a final thought, let me leave you with these words from Jonathan Edwards:
“It does not answer the aim. which God had in this institution, merely for men to have good commentaries and expositions on the Scripture, and other good books of divinity; because, although these may tend, as well as preaching, to give a good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the word of God, yet they have not an equal tendency to impress them on men’s hearts and affection s. God hath appointed a particular and lively application of his word, in the preaching of it, as a fit means to affect sinners with the importance of religion} their own misery, the necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; to stir up the pure minds of the saints, quicken their affections by often bringing the great things of religion in their remembrance, and setting them in their proper colours, though they know them, and have been fully instructed in them already.”
P.S. I recommend the pastor’s handbook. A brilliant book which inspired this piece