man writing notes in notebook at a table

Engaging Preaching

In his substantial biography of J.I. Packer, Leland Ryken interviews Dr. Packer regarding his literary and spoken style and rhetoric:

Did Packer consciously cultivate the stylistic and rhetorical strategies that I have explored?

I asked him that question and he said yes. He followed that affirmation with the explanation, “One of the things I am is a communicator”.

Ryken highlights Packer’s anticipation of questions in his hearers, ‘but someone will say’, or, ‘but wait a minute’, or ‘you may still be wondering’, all of which serve clarity.

He also highlights Packer’s aphoristic gift, the ability to sum up a great truth in a concise and memorable statement, ‘all roads in the Bible lead to Romans’, ‘Santa Claus theology’, ‘the Bible excludes the idea of a frustrated deity’.

Preachers are communicators!

Look at how Paul anticipates questions in Romans 3:1, 6:1, 6:15, 9:14 and 9:19, and James in 1:13, 2:14, 2:18 and 4:13. James’ classic aphorism is ‘faith without works is dead’, 2:26, and Paul’s classic is, ‘consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’, Romans 6:11.

These two strategies, anticipating questions and the use of aphorism, serve clarity and engagement with the congregation.

As communicators we must strive to be clear. Andrew Blackwood is quoted as saying, ‘These three remain, faith, hope and clarity but the greatest of these is clarity.’ Billy Graham would often be heard to say, ‘But Billy, you may ask’, and he would anticipate the question in his hearers minds.

The value of the aphorism is that it sums up truth and lodges the truth in the mind of the hearer. Aphorisms I have heard lately include:

‘What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing’—a quote from CS Lewis, used to great effect by being repeated throughout a Good Friday sermon.

‘What has no future without the why’, repeated throughout a sermon on 2 Timothy, in the context that God never tells us what to do without telling us why to do it.

‘When Christians pray coincidences happen..

‘Nature abhors a vacuum.’

‘Authentic faith is lip and life.’

‘Good works are fruit not root.’

These sayings are used to best effect when repeated throughout the sermon.

Another contributor to clear and engaging preaching is illustration. Apt illustrations both clarify an idea and demonstrate its application. A preacher must never be off duty and is a steady accumulator of material.

On one occasion the well-known Australian script writer, the late Tony Morphett came to Wee Waa to speak to a men’s dinner. I picked him up from the airport in the morning and asked what he would like to do for the day. He said, ‘I am a writer, my interests are omnivorous’. We visited the saleyards in Narrabri,  a cotton farm, a cotton gin and the oldest house in town. All the way Tony was taking notes recording observations.

An omnivorous accumulator! So it is with the preacher!

David Cook