A challenge for 2018
I relish the coming of a new year, even if I…
‘I need preaching that helps me to know God better. I don’t need preaching about culture and politics. I need to know God and his holiness. The world gives me its values. Preaching should guide me to God and his directions for holy living.”
That was the e-mail I received when I was part of a search committee looking for a new pulpit minister. In a world heavily influenced by media and the hype of pop culture, believers recognize that the church needs preaching inspired by the message of God.
I don’t have many early memories of preaching, since I attended church infrequently until I was 12 years old. But I was fascinated by words, stories and messages. I especially loved the stories of Bible characters. I still do.
Delmar Owen was preaching for the East Side Church of Christ in Tulsa, Okla., when my family moved there. Delmar was an effective speaker who was developing his voice. Reflecting back, I think he was beginning to recognize the power of biblical preaching to transform. He was working with elders who respected him and valued his growing skills as a preacher and spiritual leader. He was studying the great preachers of an earlier age.
When I went to college at Lipscomb in Tennessee, I was thrilled to hear Batsell Barrett Baxter preach Sundays and occasionally in chapel. He always dealt in profound truths, but his illustrations were easy to grasp. I heard him give a baccalaureate address on the theme of one love replaced by a greater love. He began by telling how much he liked Zane Grey novels as boy, but in his vast library not one Zane Grey novel could be found because his love for God has replaced his early interest in western novels. His illustration made his point very memorable, and that was a hallmark of his preaching.
But great preaching is possible only when the preacher is immersed in the Word and when he is filled with the Spirit.
Through years of working with the college ministry at my home congregation in Oklahoma, I have had the chance to learn regularly from young preachers of great ability. For nearly 10 years, Shon Smith worked with college students here. I heard him preach twice a week. He often began with a story related to sports. Although not everyone in his audience loved sports, his humor and drama connected him to everyone.
His details were vivid and fresh. In teaching postmodern believers, he understood the importance of explicating texts with meaningful illustrations and a clear focus on Jesus the Savior.
Another preacher who made a lasting impact on my life is Howard Norton. I first met him 47 years ago. He was part of the group that served as missionaries in Brazil.
Howard always begins by reading a passage of Scripture, which he either mines for full meaning or builds on a key phrase. His messages are always positive even when he is warning or admonishing. He has a strong voice, but his delivery is conversational.
His knowledge of the Bible allows him to draw on Old Testament stories, teachings of Jesus or other New Testament writings to provide illustrations. His series on Philippians was so clear and direct that I am reminded of it whenever I reread the book.
Great preaching helps the Kingdom to grow by touching the mind and spirit. But great preaching is possible only when the preacher is immersed in the Word and when he is filled with the Spirit. Preachers also need the support of the church leadership to protect their time for study and to encourage personal growth and development.
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