I enjoy teaching preaching.
It is a particular delight to teach in a variety of contexts. Some settings are academic; others are more church-based. Some of the preachers I train have had years of experience; others are novices. I teach preaching in the UK and in a variety of other countries.
This has got me thinking about what we are trying to achieve through our sermons.
Many preachers think of preaching in terms of information. This is important. Preachers do need to have something worthwhile to say. Yet preaching is more than information transfer.
Preachers are in the business of transformation, which means that we are communicating for change.
One of the things that makes a sermon effective is the preacher having a pastoral concern for the congregation that aims to help people know and follow Jesus.
One of the masters of such pastoral preaching was the 17th century puritan Richard Baxter.
In 1656 he wrote a book entitled The Reformed Pastor.
In the book he urged preachers to keep it real.
Firstly, this reality means the preacher keeping their spiritual life in order.
“Content not yourselves with being in a state of grace, be careful that your graces are kept in a vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons that you study, before you preach them to others.”
Secondly, it means remembering that our sermons communicate who we are, as much as what we say.
“When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold; and when I am confused, my preaching is confused; and so I oft observe also in the best of my hearers, that when I get cold in preaching, they have grown cold too; and the next prayers which I have heard from them have been too like my preaching.”
Thirdly, that we can undo much of what we say by the manner in which we say it.
“He that means as he speaks, will surely do as he speaks. One proud, surly, lordly word, one needless contention, one covetous action, may cut the throat of many a sermon, and blast the fruit of all that you have been doing.”
It a world of Twitter bluntness, preachers do well to adopt an attitude that commends their words.
Fourthly, preachers keep it real by investing as much time in preparing their lives as they do in preparing their sermons.
“A practical doctrine must be practically preached. We must study as hard how to live well, as how to preach well. We must think and think again, how to compose our lives, as may most tend to men’s salvation, as well as to our sermons.”
One preacher was asked how long it takes to prepare a sermon. His answer was, “It takes 20 years to prepare a sermon because it takes 20 years to prepare a preacher!”
Sometimes it is not so much what a preacher says but who they are that makes all the difference to the hearer.