On communicating as a preacher…

12 Aug

I think it’s easy to get side-tracked when we talk about communicating effectively as preachers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in a class on preaching where we’ve spent a significant amount of time on things like, ‘don’t put your hands in your pocket’ when you preach or ‘don’t scratch your nose’ or whatever. Then I’ve gone out from the class and listened to preachers who have broken many of the established “rules” of effective communication, and yet somehow, are effective communicators.

Instead of getting side-tracked by relatively minor details, I believe it is more important to focus on certain fundamental ‘attitudes’ that are essential for effectively communicating as a preacher.

To communicate most effectively, the expository preacher must love the people to whom he is speaking. He should be able to say to his congregation what the apostle Paul said to the Philippians, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ
Jesus.” (Phil.1:8)

The expository preacher’s love for his congregation will be expressed in many different ways. He will want what is best for them. The congregation should have no doubt that even though the preacher has to say some hard things, he only says them because he has deep affection for them. His love for the congregation will keep him from having a cynical, holier than thou attitude as he preaches. When he is addressing specific areas of sin, he won’t arrogantly wag his finger at the congregation, ‘you people…’ but instead weep and plead with them because he doesn’t want to see them dishonor God and hurt themselves. He will not preach down to his congregation but speak with them as a father might to his children.

The preacher’s love for his congregation will show up in the way he speaks to them. He will think about the kinds of things they are interested in, the world in which they live, the kind of words they understand. He won’t stand behind the pulpit and think to himself, “These people better adjust themselves to my style…” but rather he will think to himself, “How can I, without compromising biblical truth, choose words and illustrations and methods of communication that will connect with my congregation and help them understand the biblical truths I am teaching.” His love for the congregation will cause him to listen even as he preaches. He won’t just spout of truths as if he were talking to a wall, but will keep a careful eye on the congregation, trying to gauge whether they are understanding or not, while thinking about how he can help them understand things even better. His love for his people will motivate him even as he structures his sermon, to put together an outline that is clear and easy to understand.

To communicate effectively, expository preachers must maintain an attitude of relaxed desperation. The preacher can enter the pulpit with confidence because he recognizes the sovereignty of God. Personally, it’s been both humbling and freeing for me to realize that while God uses me, He doesn’t need me. It’s humbling to realize the work of God in the world doesn’t hinge on my effectiveness as a communicator and that even my best sermon will accomplish nothing apart from His grace. It’s freeing because I realize that God’s purposes will prevail. If I were relying on myself and my abilities, I’d be freaking out every time I entered the pulpit, because I quite simply can’t get the job done. But because I can enter the pulpit relying on God’s strength, I can enter the pulpit relaxed and secure, because I know for sure God can and will get the job done.

While believing in God’s sovereignty enables preachers to preach confidently, it doesn’t mean that they should not preach passionately. Though God doesn’t need us, He does use us. God in His sovereignty has chosen to use human means to reach men. When I understand who I am speaking for, who I am speaking to, and what I am speaking about it causes me to preach with a sense of desperation, to preach as Richard Baxter once put it, “as a dying man to dying men.”

To communicate most effectively, the expository preacher must be fearful and fearless. He must fear God not man. The person who fears God will be sober-minded about the preaching task, not flippant. He will be most concerned about God’s approval and will be very concerned about lifting God up in the eyes of the congregation. He will not be a showboat. He will not use communication techniques to draw attention to himself.

The fear of man is a trap for the preacher. It obviously effects the content of the message. The fear of man keeps preachers from being concrete and specific and thus keeps them from saying anything very helpful. The fear of man keeps preachers from saying things they should the way they should. The fear of man causes preachers to ignore certain passages and emphasize others. But not only does the fear of man effect a preacher’s content, I believe the fear of man also effects the way preachers communicate.

Many communication “ticks” like ums, or wringing of hands, or not looking at people in the eye, etc. are not due to poor training, but rather the result of a fear of man. (I believe this is important to remember when training preachers. A person by hard work can train himself to look someone in the eye, not use ums, etc. but if he hasn’t dealt with the fear of man, his inordinate longing for people’s approval, then he really hasn’t dealt with the real problem. In fact, he may work hard at overcoming those ticks for the same reason he developed them, he is focused on himself and what other people think of him!)

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