The Preacher and His WordsJuly 4, 2013
The preacher spends countless hours a week reading, studying, digging, and writing down words. Words from Scripture, words from books and commentaries, words from preaching, words from prayer and meditation, words from conversations…all these words (hundreds of thousands) are cultivated, processed, and considered as we approach the appointed hour of mounting the pulpit. Our challenge is to take those words and condense them into a message that is relevant, convicting, spiritual, and Scriptural. Therefore, we must ensure we have the right words. This, my friend is a serious task.
This is a serious task not only because of the time-constraints we face in this generation, but more importantly, because our words have meaning. Our words have immediate, continual, and eternal influence upon those who hear them. The “right words” as Mark Twain puts it, is the difference between “a lightning bug and the lightning.” The words of a preacher, unlike other professionals, reveal not only the character of the preacher, but the character of God. Therefore, we must take caution and use discretion when it comes to the words we use.
In his book, The Conviction to Lead, Albert Mohler states, “The leader may have the most brilliant strategy in his mind, the most breathtaking vision in his sights, and an irrepressible passion in his heart, but if these things are not communicated to others, real leadership doesn’t occur.” In short, our thoughts, vision, and passion are only as good as the words we use to convey them.
The preacher should put his words through a few tests:
1. The Clarity Test
We are not called to impress with our words, we are called to present a clear and concise message from God’s Word. One of the greatest discoveries in my early ministry was learning that my words should only reiterate what Scripture has already confirmed. My responsibility as a messenger is to simply deliver the message. When we jumble our words with ongoing and endless thoughts we distort the truth of Scripture and disengage our listeners. When in doubt, always use the KISS method- Keep It Simple, Stupid. The old proverb of trying to catch two rabbits is very practical in preaching- you will not catch either one; neither will you capture the attention of your congregation.
2. The Conviction Test
You will never influence people with your words if your words have not first influenced you. “In times like the present” said Abraham Lincoln, “men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.” Do we believe what we preach? Perhaps a better question: do we live what we preach? Words on our lips are only substantiated when they match the witness on our lives. If you are not personally convicted by a particular thing, you shouldn’t try to communicate a particular thing. Of course we are to preach the whole counsel of God, that is not what I am saying. What I mean is your authenticity as a preacher is rooted in your convictions.
3. The Creativity Test
We should never compromise truth for creativity; but with that being said, nothing seems to convey truth more than when delivered in a creative fashion. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” As a preacher, you have the unique opportunity to “stretch minds” to the things of God. Of course we should avoid gimmicks and trickery; but we should remember that part of our calling is the communication of words. In this generation, it is increasingly harder for people to focus and give full attention. The preacher must uniquely find ways with words to communicate truth.
4. The Confidence Test
Many preachers, including myself, have experienced what I call the “Jeremiah Complex.” The prophet Jeremiah, when called by God, suffered from fear of faces. Literally he was afraid to speak because he felt like he had nothing to say-he had no words. It was then that God reminded the apprehensive preacher, “Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee…I have put my words in thy mouth” (Jeremiah 1:8-9). We are NOT confident in ourselves, our abilities, or our strength; but we can preach with confidence knowing that our message is validated by the very words of God. If you are not confident in speaking, they will not be confident in listening.
5. The Consistency Test
Consistency validates your integrity and character, and confirms your message. Many preachers want to hit a home-run every time they preach; forget the home-run, be a bunter. On average, the bunter will get on base, or at least move someone else further along more times than a big swinger will. A consistent bunter is more effective than a flamboyant homer. Everyone knows that repetition is the key to effective communication. Rule of thumb: tell them what you are going to say, say what you are going to say, then tell them what you just said. They will walk away at least knowing you were consistent, and therefore trustworthy.
Remember, words take up space…not just on a screen, or in a book, or in a conversation. They ultimately take up space in hearts and minds. Use your words with clarity, with conviction, with creativity, with confidence, and with consistency…someone, somewhere will be listening. This includes God.