We were having a light supper with one of the elders and his wife in their magnificent home one Sunday night after church. Another elder and his wife had been invited to join us. We were seated at the table, enjoying delicious food and delightful conversation. Suddenly, the wife of the other elder said to me, “Hugh, I think your preaching is a little bit old style. I think you need to update your preaching.” To say the least, I was taken aback.
We had been with the congregation only a few months, but I had been preaching for thirty years, twenty-five as a full-time minister. I had already served several excellent congregations of Christ and had always had good, successful works everywhere I had preached. I guess I was so naïve that I had not thought all that much about my “style” of preaching, though I realized different preachers had different ways of presenting their lessons, some more effectively than others. I had always tried to be thoughtful, gracious, poised, dignified, kind, and yet courageous in my preaching—and, above all, Biblical! I tried never to enter the pulpit unprepared, though I would be the first to admit that, like any other preacher, my sermons were not all of equal quality, nor did all of them always resonate with everyone in the audience. Rare is the preacher who can please all of the members of his congregation.
I had always preached (and still preach) with the conviction that the power is in the message (the gospel), not in the messenger, and that the word of God has within it the power to convict, to convert, to instruct, to admonish, and to comfort those who hear it. Upon questioning, the critical elder’s wife could not name anything unscriptural that I had preached. Unknown to me at the time was the fact that her unmarried daughter was chasing the husband of one of our members, but her concern was not in seeking help for her daughter’s sinful lifestyle, but in chiding me for my preaching style! Perhaps she felt that some of my preaching was striking a bit closer to home than she would like. I don’t know.
More recently I heard a gospel preacher and Bible professor in an informal interview with another preacher refer to some preachers as “old school.” I suppose he meant by that the same thing the elder’s wife meant by “old style.” Some people seem to think that “new school” preachers need to use a lot of humor and contemporary human interest stories in their preaching. I am not opposed to illustrative stories in preaching, even humorous stories, and have been known to use them myself, but I am convinced that some preachers are frustrated comedians. They need to decide which they want to be—preachers or comedians. Most of them do a poor job of being either when they try to be both! Charles Spurgeon, the famous Baptist preacher, is reported to have once said, “A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats.”
I am all for relevance in preaching. I am all for being fresh in one’s manner/style of presentation. I am all for preachers examining their manner of presentation and being willing to adapt to the times, but not at the expense of abandoning truth. I am all for addressing current, “cutting edge” issues, but not at the expense of forsaking “the old paths” (Jeremiah 6:16)! And I understand “the old paths” to be any matter addressed in the word of God that mankind is perennially in need of. God’s word is always “cutting edge” (cf. Hebrews 4:12)!
It is my duty (and the duty of every man who calls himself a gospel preacher) to follow the example of the apostle Paul who said, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). I have honestly endeavored to do that throughout my life as a preacher (now extending to almost 65 years), and I intend to continue to do that. But in doing so, I run the risk of being told (as I was by a fellow who worked with me on a television program in the same city where the incident in paragraph one occurred) that I am too “Bible-y”!
“Old style”? “Old school”? What about Bible style? What about being schooled in the Bible and preaching it?
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (II Timothy 4:1-5, NASB).
August 29, 2017