Monday, February 28, 2011

Everything you know (about preaching) is wrong...

Looking back, I should have realised the first time I heard Charlie speak. Charlie is the minister of a large charismatic church near where I used to live. I've heard him preach half a dozen or so times. Charlie isn't the best preacher in the world. I mean, he's not a bad preacher but he doesn't do most of the things that I learned to do in preaching training. His structure is often unclear; it's sometimes hard to tell what his main point is, and so on. On a technical level, I know lots of people who are "better" preachers than Charlie, many of them not in full-time Christian work.

But when Charlie speaks, God really moves in the hearts and minds of the people who are listening. And I'll bet it's because Charlie prays, and prays a lot. On the level that actually matters, rather than the level we're taught to preach and evaluate sermons on, he's one of the best preachers I know.

I've been through theological college. I've been on conferences about how to preach. I've read quite a few books on the topic, and yet prayer is hardly mentioned. Just about the most recent book on preaching I've read which spent anywhere near enough time on prayer is Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students. Perhaps that is why we now see God moving so little through preaching.

It matters far more that we spend much time in prayer than that we spend much time in preparation, or in alliteration, sharpening or making our points memorable. As Andrew Murray wrote, there is no record of Jesus teaching his apostles to preach, but he did teach them to pray. Preaching is ultimately about God's work in the hearts of the hearers rather than our work in the mind of the preacher, so prayer must be the key.

This is Baxter's advice to preachers:

Above all, be much in secret prayer and meditation. Thence you must fetch the heavenly fire that must kindle your sacrifices... Therefore [before preaching] go then specially to God for life: read some rousing, awakening book, or meditate on the weight of the subject of which you are to speak, and on the great necessity of your people's souls, that you may go in the zeal of the Lord into his house... that every one who comes cold into the assembly may have some warmth imparted to him before he depart.
Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, p.62-63

and Spurgeon's

Prayer is the best studying.
C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, p.90

And here's R.C. Sproul Jr on what we can tell about how to preach from Scripture:

The Bible is clear that there is power to change us in the preaching of the Word. We know we are to preach the Word, and not our own wisdom. We know we are to preach Christ, and Him crucified. That, however, doesn’t tell us everything. I confess that I could preach for days on how to preach a proper sermon, but I would run out of proof-texts the first hour.
from here

Why, oh why do we so often try to make preaching a human work? I am not doing down the importance of preparation and much skilful preparation, or of God's work through our work in preparation. But I suspect that we treat it far more as our work than God's, and should pray accordingly.