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A Prepared Preacher, More Than a Prepared Sermon

21 January 2008

Last year was the 50th anniversary of the publishing of an important little book on preaching: The Integrity of Preaching, by John Knox. Listen in:

“The aim of the preparation is clear; it is a man prepared, not a sermon prepared. The sermon must be an element in the man’s own personal readiness for the occasion of preaching. The sermon must not be thought of as doing the preacher’s job for him, or even as being the mere instrument with which he does it. The sermon at its truest and best is the man himself doing his work. The sermon is the preacher preaching—an action, not a thing. It is an act of personal expression and communication, not a deposit of previous experience and reflection. It is this fact that makes it so difficult to preach an old sermon. The sermon is an intimate personal creation belonging essentially to the moment of preaching itself. The more truly creatively and vividly he can anticipate that moment, the more intensively he can experience it in advance, the more appropriate and effective his preparation can be. He will be preparing, not a sermon, but himself; or to say it perhaps better, his preparation of a sermon will actually be a preparation of himself and his preparation of himself will be in part the preparation of a sermon.” (pp. 67-68.)

This paragraph hit me like a ton of bricks. It probably shouldn’t. I am confident that they said such things in my Bible college days decades ago. It is pretty basic stuff. But it did hit me hard. I am a writer. That is part of who I am. It is where I find my joy and where I am able to think. I think best on paper…or at a keyboard. What has been difficult is that I have prepared sermons like I have prepared a written lesson or a paper. And my preaching has shown that. The biggest criticism I receive of my preaching is that it is academic and class-room-like. And here is why. Because I am preparing a sermon to be presented. I “preach” the sermon…but it is really just trying to making the presentation of the sermon as real as possible.

Even when I was in Toastmasters, extemporaneous speaking terrified me and was my weakest area.

Yesterday morning was interesting. We were in Acts 2 and I preached on vv. 1-12. It was basically the coming of the Holy Spirit and the signs of the sound of the wind, the tongues of fire and the speaking in unlearned languages. And I had wrestled with this paragraph last week.

I went into the pulpit MUCH less prepared than normal. That is not totally true. I was about as prepared in my mind as normal. What wasn’t prepared was the final structure and specific wording of the sermon. And in the end (as I preached it) I dropped a big part of what I had prepared and I expanded on other parts of it. I ended up putting my Bible down on the stool so I could use both hands to gesture. Weeks ago that would have terrified me.

I don’t have a good feel for how the sermon went. I think it went well. It was a big stretch for me. I don’t know whether people could tell or not, but I could tell.

I can’t let that go. “He will be preparing, not a sermon, but himself; or to say it perhaps better, his preparation of a sermon will actually be a preparation of himself and his preparation of himself will be in part the preparation of a sermon.” It warrants more thought.

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