From the first time I read a sermon by C.H. Spurgeon, in the 70’s, I wanted to be a preacher! This was brought to my recollection as I perused a thread about preaching. Some (many) writers claimed that preaching is a relic of the past, that in this post-modern time it is a counterproductive exercise.
Certainly the idea of being “preached at” is unacceptable in our culture but I am certain that there remains a vital place for “preaching to” folks.
All this made me reflect on my journey as a preacher and the way I have developed or devolved in the art of preaching. I earnestly wanted to be a good if not a great preacher and I read many, many great sermons. I went to hear great preachers when they were in my area. I read books of poetry to learn about rhythm and rhyme. My early and perhaps most beneficial method of personal Bible study was to craft sermons on the texts I was reading.
I was a bit shocked when I was commissioned to ministry that no one wanted to hear a preacher “who had just fallen off the turnip truck.” My dream of being an itinerant preacher was seemingly dashed. Soon I discovered that while the adults would not let me in their pulpits they readily gave me access to their precious children, and so began a long period of crafting children’s talks and puppet plays. All the while I was still dreaming of pulpits and preaching.
At one point I even took the family on a camping trip to Memphis Tennessee during tornado season, (we didn’t know that until we learned firsthand) while I attended an Expository Preaching course offered by one of the great preachers of his day, Dr. Stephen Olford. From him I learned the craft of crafting an elegant 3 point evangelical sermon.
Years later my opportunity finally came and my years of prayer and preparation began to pay off. Linda and I operated a small conference and retreat centre in Elkhorn Manitoba but in order to pay the bills I found that I needed to be ‘on the road’ preaching. The free will offerings from these treks paid the expenses of our ministry. My last year on the Prairies I preached 300 times!
I then came to Taylor College where part of my responsibility was to teach Preaching. At first I was thrilled with this opportunity to ‘multiply’ my ministry but I was never really a very good Homiletics teacher (though I did excel in teaching Evangelism and Mission).
It was during this time that we founded Up Town Church and I found myself regularly preaching to people who had no patience or capacity for a three point clever sermon and I developed as a preacher. I came to believe that a good preacher was someone who communicates the true gospel to a peculiar group of hearers. If I had all the technique and artistry but failed in connecting people to God and his word I was a buffoon! It was during this time I learned the discipline of what I have come to term a One Point sermon. My goal is that my friends are not only hearers of the word (though I passionately want them to hear!) but to become doers of the word. So I have developed a habit of preaching toward a definite application. For the most part I have jettisoned artistry in favour of clarity. At the ending of each message I stop and ask “Does that make sense to you?” I wait for an answer before I either conclude or try again.
The dream of being a preacher was more than tinged with ego. Now I am perhaps a humbler man who simply longs to connect people to God. I remain convinced of the importance of good preaching and the purposes of God to use this foolish means to his glory.