Preaching: Truth in Human Personality
Contributed by Paul Szobody
Nothing is so precious, yet so rare, as effective preaching. By “effective” I mean a ministry of God’s Word that does what it says. Also known among evangelicals as “anointed” preaching, it comes with an unexpected divine presence, a holy hush, an inward work in hearers that truly changes them. By it sinners repent. Saints are sanctified. Light shines from heaven into the darkness of terrestrial life and the dust of death is blown away. Weak are strengthened, depressed encouraged, the sorrowful find comfort, the intelligence enlightened, the hard heart made sweetly pliable, and the disinterested and complacent shocked by a direct encounter with the living Son of God. Under the influence of its voice, the prodigal comes home and the faithful are sent out equipped for mission. The church’s life, health, and mission depend on it. Her dogma is a footnote to it (an idea attributed to K. Barth). If a history of humanity be written from God’s perspective, it just might be a history of preaching and its effects.
I believe therefore that there is no more precious and worthy calling than to preach and teach God’s holy Word. There is no formation, no continual education, higher and more worthy of the best labor than that of a preacher. “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” Jesus said to the religious leaders. They failed their ministry and God’s people who depended on it. The remedy was simple: a right relationship to, and understanding of God’s word, and the quality of spiritual life whose work is accompanied by God’s own effectual presence.
Yet due to the four-fold complex dynamics of text-God-speaker-audience, it may well be that preaching is likewise the most difficult vocation in this world, if it be fulfilled in an efficacious manner. In it all the intellectual, spiritual, personal, and socio-cultural knowledge, experience, and skills come into inter-relational play; and these components of ministerial life need to be worked out with much wisdom and great spiritual and human sensitivity, if the work is to be worthy of its calling. In the final analysis, if God takes it all up into his own work, it will minister life. If not, nothing of value will result. It is all of God, but it is worth our all.
For the above reasons it is both tragic and saddening to observe preachers, confident in themselves, in their intelligence, training and skills, whose preaching is not biblical, or evangelical, or effective. To use the French Jansenist Saint-Cyran’s phrase, it “lacks unction.” The world and the church move on as if all is good and normal. But severe famine has set in, a famine of the hearing of God’s word (to borrow the words of the prophet). And most don’t know it. The church has no idea what she’s missing, how banal and malnourished is her life. Her bane is mere perfunctory religion: on time, well planned, perhaps esthetically pleasing, but with undiscerned empty cupboards. There’s no bread on the table. John Stott pointed out the serious culpability of preachers who waste people’s time with ineffective sermons. Unless one has witnessed and tasted preaching as a divine voice in the wilderness, as living bread from heaven, ignorance and self-satisfaction set in: we don’t know our own abject poverty. For this reason it’s important that the preacher study and note continually what constitutes effective preaching