The Baptist Catechism (1689) questions 93 and 94:
Q. 93: “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?”
A: ” …the ordinances, especially the word, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and prayer; all which means are made effectual to the elect for salvation.”
Q. 94: “How is the word made effectual to salvation?”
A: “The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.”
Preaching the word of God is a vital means of grace for the church. I believe it is of primary importance in the ministry of the church and the pastor. Acts 6:1-4 seems to make this point. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones argues this point forcefully in the first chapter of his classic work Preaching and Preachers. Paul encourages his protege Timothy to preach the Word as the means to combat a sinful culture and a church culture filling to the brim with false teachers (see 2 Tim. 3:1-4:5). God has spoken to his people through his Word and it is the duty and joy of a Christian minister to convey this message to his people. The content of preaching is already determined for the preacher; it is the Word itself. The main point of the sermon should be the main point of the passage being preached. In essence, this is what expository preaching seeks to do.
Based on all of this, I would contend that the content of a sermon is the most important aspect of the ministry of the Word. I think one writer was right to say in this regard, “It is important clumsily to have something to say than cleverly say nothing.” It is not clever anecdotes, funny and relatable stories, or special theatrics that matter most. What the pastor wears, how he speaks, and his personality all pale in comparison to the importance of the content of a preacher’s sermon. The content should be that of the text and should point hearers to Christ as the glory of God is exulted in, whether the delivery style is good or bad, pretty or ugly.
However, does this mean that the delivery method of a preacher matters not? Does it make little to no difference how a preacher presents the message of God to God’s people and lost sinners alike? I am taking a course this semester at Boyce College that answers these questions with a resounding No! The delivery of a sermon matters greatly in the ministry of the Word. This is what my fellow classmates and I are being taught–how to effectively deliver Christ-centered, God-glorifying, Word-focused sermons. What we say is most important, but how we say it carries its own weight of importance. Danny Akin is wise when he says,
What you say is more important than how you say it, but how you say it has never been more important. Preachers were once the best show in town, but that day has long passed away. Today we compete against a world of audio-video technology that is exciting, attractive, and first class. If we say what we say badly, we will not be heard. That is reality. That is fact. This is the world in which we find ourselves.
Bryan Chappell further warns,
When delivery techniques dominate a sermon’s impressions, listeners tend to reject the message. Listeners remember the delivery of poor speakers; they remember the content of good speakers. We communicate messages best when our delivery is transparent. Neither showy oratory nor a staid presentation accomplishes this goal because both draw attention to themselves. Thus, the goal of a preacher is to get out of the way of the message, to deliver the sermon so aptly that its thought alone dominates listeners’ thoughts. We achieve this goal by practicing sound delivery skills…
In this sense, a preacher and his delivery method are like an umpire. If an umpire is doing his job, he goes unnoticed. However, the moment he fails at his job, all eyes are on him [this illustration is adapted from Prof. Brian Payne (Boyce College)]. Listeners notice the preacher’s verbal and nonverbal language. Expressions and tone of voice both matter as much as the words that are coming out of the preacher’s mouth. Though a preacher cannot hinder God’s saving and sanctifying purposes in his Word, he can draw the attention of listeners away from the message and to himself through poor delivery skills. I have only preached two sermons in my life and as I watch them for reflection, I notice some flaws in my delivery that do not properly convey the words coming out of my mouth. Honing these skills will only help me to disappear into the backdrop as I magnify the Word of God in my preaching.
Preaching is the primary means of grace for the church and the sanctification of believers. So, preaching matters. And the content of preaching should be the supreme and sufficient Word of God. But it matters also that we do not simply preach, but that we preach well. It should be the goal of the preacher to step into the pulpit and proclaim the truths of God in such a way that he is absent from the minds of listeners as they are too busy gazing upon the glory of God in his Son. Since preaching is so important, the way preacher’s preach is pertinent. This is all much easier said than done. Tremendous temptation accompanies a preacher when he steps into the pulpit. The task is daunting. Preaching well will require practice, diligent work, humility, prayer, and a lot of listening to preachers who have gone before us. Pray for the grace to preach the Word and preach it well.
I’ll leave you with some very sobering and encouraging words from Chuck Swindoll on the importance of sermon delivery:
Preaching is not as simple as dumping a half-ton load of religious whine, and a hodgepodge of verbs, nouns, and adjectives; but preparing the heart, sharpening the mind; delivering the goods with care, sensitivity, timing, and clarity. It’s the difference between slopping hogs and feeding sheep…study hard, pray like mad, think it through, tell the truth, then stand tall. But while you’re on your feet, don’t clothe the riches of Christ in rags. Say it well.
Preach the Word. Pray for grace. Preach it well.
[I relied heavily on lectures given by Dr. Brian Payne from Boyce College in writing this post.]