I want to be a better preacher!
And because of that I am often reading or listening to lectures on preaching. It’s amazing really the time in which we live. How much helpful material there is and how easily it can be accessed.
I recently found a set of lectures by Al Martin on Pastoral Theology. Now, when I was younger, I had heard of Al Martin quite a bit. But I hadn’t heard much from Al Martin. For some reason, I just didn’t have the opportunity to listen to many of his messages. The only one I remember in fact was when we were at a conference and he called out someone in the congregation who was talking during the sermon. It scared me a bit then, to be honest, but I knew for sure at least one thing, this was a man who took the Word seriously.
Lately though, thanks to the Internet, I have been able to access his messages and certainly understand why his preaching ministry made such an impact. (In September, we are actually looking forward to having Brian Borgman, speak at a conference here in South Africa, and Brian has written a book on Al Martin’s preaching, so I am eager to learn more.)
But anyway, it helps me sometimes to collect quotes here on the blog so that I can look for them later, and I found the following two quotes on preaching interesting. (Since I have been trying to preach with less notes lately, I guess, these stood out from his lecture on the preacher and his manuscript.)
“Never read a full manuscript from the pulpit and call it preaching…”
And then he quotes R.L. Dabney,
“Reading a manuscript to the people can never, with any justice, be termed preaching. Even if the matter and style are rhetorical, the action cannot be, but it is almost impossible that the structure either of thought or language should be such, when the invention is performed in solitude and at the writing-desk. Some men of powerful genius have indeed, by long practice, acquired the talent of so representing to themselves the circumstances of public discourse, while engaged in solitary composition, as almost to overcome this obstacle ; they do indeed write as an orator should speak. But these are the exceptions. In the delivery of the sermon there can be no exception in favour of the mere reader. How can he whose eyes are fixed upon the paper before him, who performs the mechanical task of reciting the very words inscribed upon it, have the inflections, the emphasis, the look, the gesture, the flexibility, the fire, of oratorical action? Mere reading, then, should be sternly banished from the pulpit, except in those rare cases in which the didactic purpose supersedes the rhetorical, and exact verbal accuracy is more essential than eloquence.”
For the last maybe ten years, I have been a full manuscript preacher and I actually think by and large, not too many people have noticed. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t really think so. But of late, I have been trying to preach with taking less and less notes into the pulpit and while I am not sure the congregation can tell much of a difference, wow, I have enjoyed it so much.
Maybe I can note some of these benefits in the future, but one of the benefits in particular I have enjoyed the most is how it has forced me to meditate and pray more about the message. When I take the full manuscript into the pulpit, I know I need to pray and meditate, but once the message is written, I feel like it’s there and it’s just a matter of delivering it, I suppose. But when I force myself not to take the manuscript into the pulpit, then I have to constantly be thinking about the text and the sermon and the various parts in the sermon and, I am just loving that. In fact, it goes so deep that I will now sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a thought about a particular part of the passage or an application from the text. (It’s kind of like having devotions in your sleep!)