Enflesh the Bones

“The true way to get rid of the boniness of your sermon is not by leaving out the skeleton but by clothing it with flesh. True liberty in writing comes by law, and the more thoroughly the outlines of your work are laid out, the more freely your sermon will flow, like an unwasted stream between its well-built banks.” -Phillips Brooks

 

Preach Diverse Experiences

“…we are apt to imagine, or at least to speak as if we imagined, that all experience will be like ours. Thus Chrysostom, always moral and inclined to be devout from a boy, taught that we get all the grace we are willing to receive; while Augustine, very wicked and powerfully converted, preached sovereign and irresistible grace. A preacher or other Christian whose conversion was consciously sudden will almost always speak of conversion as sudden; one in whom the work was gradual and slow will give a corresponding description. So with the hopeful and the desponding, the fully assured and the often doubting, and the like. We are prone to forget that Christian experience, like the human countenance, will in no two persons be precisely alike, and often presents many and striking differences, though the great characteristic features are always the same.” (John Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, p. 75)

 

The Old is Good

Do not habitually neglect any portion of Scripture. Some neglect the Old Testament thus losing all its rich unfolding of God’s character and the methods of his Providence, all its unnumbered illustrations of human life and duty, and its many types and predictions of the coming Saviour.”

–Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons

The Dark Center

For one thing, our preachers tell us the wrong story entirely, saying not a word about the dark side–no, that’s too weak–about the dark center of the Gospel. They can’t bring themselves to come within a country mile of the horrendous truth that we are saved in our deaths, not by our efforts to lead a good life. Instead, they mouth the canned recipes for successful living they think they congregations want to hear. It makes no difference what kind of success they urge on us: “spiritual” or “religious” success is as irrelevant to the Gospel as is  success in health, money, or love. Nothing counts but the cross.

Robert Farrar Capon, The Foolishness of Preaching

Can’t Take it for Granted

She [the church] has felt that it is a very good thing for people to be within the home of the church, that she may protect them from the temptations of the world. But the tragedy is that so often she takes it for granted that these people are truly Christians. The church has addressed, to such, messages which are quite appropriate for the true Christian, but are not of much value to those who lack the essence of the faith. Thus, I say, it comes to pass that the church can be a very dangerous place. It may be that because these people are in the church they will never have addressed directly to them some of the primary, fundamental questions which all true Christians must be able to answer. There is a real danger of our assuming that we are Chrsitians for wrong and false reasons, and I do not hesitate to say that it is a very real and great danger.

-D. M. Lloyd-Jones, True Christian Discipleship

Use More than a Hammer

A preacher is like a carpenter. His tool is the Word of God. Because the materials on which he works vary, he ought not always puruse the same course when he preaches. For the sake of the variety of his auditors he should somtimes conosle, sometimes frighten, sometimes scold, sometimes soothe.

–Martin Luther

No Preaching Suits

Sinclair Ferguson gives ten helpful commandments for preaching. Here’s the eighth, Find Your Own Voice:

“Voice” here is used in the sense of personal style—“know yourself” if one can Christianize the wisdom of the philosophers.

That being said, finding a voice—in the literal sense—is also important. The good preacher who uses his voice badly is a rara avis indeed. Clearly, affectation should be banned; nor are we actors whose voices are molded to the part that is to be played. But our creation as the image of God, creatures who speak—and speak his praises and his word—really requires us to do all we can with the natural resources the Lord has given us.

But it is “voice” in the metaphorical sense that is really in view here—our approach to preaching that makes it authentically “our” preaching and not a slavish imitation of someone else. Yes, we may—must—learn from others, positively and negatively. Further, it is always important when others preach to listen to them with both ears open: one for personal nourishment through the ministry of the word, but the other to try to detect the principles that make this preaching helpful to people.

We ought not to become clones. Some men never grow as preachers because the “preaching suit” they have borrowed does not actually fit them or their gifts. Instead of becoming the outstanding expository preacher, or redemptive-historical, or God-centered, or whatever their hero may be, we may tie ourselves in knots and endanger our own unique giftedness by trying to use someone else’s paradigm, style, or personality as a mold into which to squeeze ourselves. We become less than our true selves in Christ. The marriage of our personality with another’s preaching style can be a recipe for being dull and lifeless. So it is worth taking the time in an ongoing way to try to assess who and what we really are as preachers in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

No Quiet Talk

“[Martin Lloyd-Jones] eschewed the word ‘address’, vilified the term ‘quiet talk’ but believed that the term ‘message’ appropriately describes what the preacher is about. He is a herald bringing a communication from the throne of God which demands a hearing and a response. ‘Scripture has to be fused into a message with point and power’, the sermon must move people, giving them a sense of the glory of God. Thus, it is necessary to bring the message and deliver it in ‘demonstration of the Spirit and of power’.”

–Tony Sargent, The Sacred Anointing, p. 85

Not Giving a Rip

Again, the pastor when facing his congregation on Sunday morning, dare not think of the effect his sermon may have on his job, his salary or his future relation to the church. Let him but worry about tomorrow and he becomes a hireling and not a true shepherd of the sheep. No man is a good preacher who is not willing to lay his future on the line every time he expounds the Word. He must let his job and his reputation ride on each and every sermon or he has no right to think that he stands in the prophetic tradition.  –A. W. Tozer, The Size of the Soul, p. 147