Some pastors preach "longhorn sermons," a point here, a point there, and a
lot of bull in between.
One pastor never prepared during the week, and on Sunday morning he'd sit on the
platform while the church was singing the hymns desperately praying, "Lord, give your
message, Lord give me your message." One Sunday, while desperately praying for God's
message, he heard the Lord say, "Ralph, here's my message. You're lazy!"
Paul saw himself as Christ's herald. When he describes himself as an appointed preacher
of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:11), the noun he uses means a herald, a person who makes public
announcements on another's behalf. When he declares "we preach Christ
crucified," the verb he uses denotes the herald's appointed activity of blazoning
abroad what he has been told to make known. When Paul speaks of "my preaching"
and "our preaching" and lays it down that after the world's wisdom had rendered
the world ignorant of God "it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save
those who believe," the noun he uses doesn't mean the activity of announcing, but the
thing announced, the proclamation itself, the message declared.
Paul, in his own estimation, was not a philosopher, not a moralist, not one of the
world's wise men, but simply Christ's herald. His royal master had given him a message to
proclaim; his whole business was to deliver that message with exact and studious
faithfulness, adding nothing, altering nothing, and omitting nothing. And he was to
deliver it not as another of people's bright ideas, needing to be beautified with the
cosmetics and high heels of fashionable learning in order to make people look at it, but
as a word from God spoken in Christ's name, carrying Christ's authority and authenticated
in the hearers by the convincing power of Christ's Spirit (1 Cor. 2:1-5).
James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986.
"You cannot at the same time give the impression that you are a great
preacher" -- or theologian or debater or whatever -- "and that Jesus Christ is a
great Savior" (James Denney). If you call attention to yourself and your own
competence, you cannot effectively call attention to Jesus and his glorious sufficiency.
James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986.
Theodore Epp, founder of Back to the Bible radio ministry, realized something was wrong
when he stopped receiving critical mail. Convicted that he was not challenging the flock
enough, he changed his preaching. "I'm afraid that when I'm pleasing everybody, I'm
not pleasing the Lord," he later said, "and pleasing the Lord is what
This is not to suggest that a pastor is only successful when he is upsetting people!
But he must be certain that he is first and foremost faithful to the One he serves. He is
fulfilling a divine commission when he preaches. Just as an ambassador is entrusted not
with his own message but with his superior's message, so the minister is entrusted with
the Word of God. Before it is delivered, therefore, every message should be laid at the
foot of His throne with one questions: "Is it faithful to You, my Lord?" Or as
one German pastor would always pray in the pulpit, "Cause my mind to fear whether my
heart means what I say."
Charles W. Colson, The Body, 1992, Word Publishing,
The Rev. Dr. Robert South, while preaching one day in 1689, looked up from his notes to observe that his entire congregation was fast
asleep--including the King! Appropriately mortified by this discovery, he interrupted his
sermon to call out, "Lord Lauderdale, rouse yourself. You snore so loudly that you
will wake the King."
Don Hewitt, creator of "60 Minutes," on his special talent as a
journalist: My philosophy is simple. It's what little kids say to their
parents: "Tell me a story." Even the people who wrote the Bible knew that when
you deal with issues, you tell stories. The issue was evil; the story was Noah.
I've had producers say, "We've got to do something on acid rain." I say, "Hold it. Acid rain is not a story. Acid
rain is a topic. We don't do topics. Find me someone who has to deal with the problem
of acid rain. Now you have a story."
Terry Ann Knopf in Boston Globe Magazine, in Reader's Digest.
The officer in charge of the royal pew in the chapel at Windsor, England, noted that King George frequently commented on
the sermon as he left the church. If he had been blessed by it, he would say in a cheerful voice, "That will do very well. That
will feed souls!" When the preacher's delivery was cold and his words were lifeless and barren of Gospel teaching, he would shake his head sorrowfully
as he left the pew and mutter under his breath, "That won't do. That just won't feed
souls!" The king's criterion for determining the value of a sermon is scripturally
sound. Ministry of all kinds, whether oral or written, may well be judged by the same
standard -- does it feed souls?
Our Daily Bread.
W.G. Blaikie says in his Life of Livingstone that when David Livingstone was sent as a student to preach at Sanford
Rivers, he stood up in the pulpit and completely forgot what he was going to say. Although this incident would have signaled the
end of public speaking for many, Livingstone knew he must notgive up. When God called him to be a missionary, he was ready to go. Later he wrote,
"I am still a very poor preacher and have a bad delivery; and some say that if they
knew I was to preach, they would not enter the chapel."
Our Daily Bread.
Some preachers are like the Chinese jugglers. One stood against a wall and the others threw knives at him. They'd hit
above his head, close by his ear, under his armpit, and between his fingers. They could throw within a hair's breadth and never
J.R.W. Stott, Between Two Worlds, pp. 135-6.
"That is my text. I am now going to preach. Maybe we'll meet again, my text and I, maybe not."
In Ralph Emery's autobiography, Memories, the country-music D.J. and host of TV's "Nashville Now" relates one of his
early experiences in radio. An exuberant man of the cloth came into the studio one day
with his wife, another woman and a guitar with an electrical short in its amplifier. I
could tell it was defective by the loud hum in his speaker.
I walked from the control room into the studio to exchange pleasantries, and then
assumed my position on my side of the glass separating the rooms. I raised the sound as they
played their opening theme song and then said, "Here again is Brother So-and-So."
These fundamentalist preachers, many self-proclaimed and well-meaning, were, however, loud and demonstrative. To escape
the screaming, I would simply turn off the monitor in my control room. I couldn't hear any of his yelling, although I could see
through the glass his jumping and straining. Every so often, I would raise my eyes from a newspaper and watch the Gospel
pantomime. Suddenly I heard him yelling through his sheer lung power, "Oh-oh-oh-oh!" -- his face contorting.
My God, he's having a seizure, I thought, and jumped to my feet. Then I noticed his thumb. The instant he had touched
the steel string of his guitar and simultaneously reached for the steel microphone in
front of him, he grounded himself because of the short in his amplifier. He was jumping
and shaking at 110 volts shot through his torso. His moist palm was rigidly clamped to the
The guy couldn't let go. He was a captive of voltage. Suddenly his wife raised her arm, and in karate fashion,
hit his arm with all her force. The blow broke his grip from the charged microphone, but his painful yells had gone over the air.
As calmly as I could, I said, "one moment please."
With Tom Carter, Memories
(Macmillan), Reader's Digest, June, 1992, p. 66.
For nothing reaches the heart but what is from the heart, or pierces the conscience but what comes from a living conscience.
The world does not need sermons; it needs a message. You can go to seminary and learn
how to preach sermons, but you will have to go to God to get messages.
Oswald J. Smith.
Samuel Clement (Mark Twain) attended a Sunday a.m. sermon. He met the pastor at the door afterward and told him that he had a
book at home with every word he had preached that morning. The minister assured him that the sermon was an original. Clement
still held his position. The pastor wanted to see this book so Clement said he would sent it over in the morning. When the
preacher unwrapped it he found a dictionary and in the flyleaf was written this: "Words, just words, just words."
The great preacher Alexander White, when he was too old to mount the pulpit, would rise
every morning to prepare a sermon, even though he never preached them. He did so until the
day he died. He was convinced that study of the Word was essential to saving himself (1
Long-winded speakers exhaust their listeners long before the exhaust their subjects. Recognizing this danger, one speaker
began his talk this way: "I understand that it's my job to talk to you. Your job
is to listen. If you quit before I do, I hope you'll let me know."
Bits & Pieces,
May 28, 1992, p. 13.
O sirs, how plainly, how closely, how earnestly, should we deliver a message of such moment as ours, when the everlasting life or everlasting
death of our fellow-men is involved in it! ...There [is] nothing more unsuitable to such a business,
than to be slight and dull. What! speak coldly for God, and for men's salvation? Can we believe that our people must be
converted or condemned, and yet speak in a drowsy tone? In the name of God, brethren, labour to awaken your own hearts, before
you go to the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners...Oh, speak
not one cold or careless word about so great a business as heaven or hell. Whatever you
do, let the people see that you are in good earnest...A sermon full of mere words, how
neatly so ever it be composed, while it want the light of evidence, and the life of zeal,
is but an image or a well-dress carcass.
Richard Baxter in The Reformed Pastor (1656);
abridged edition (1829), in Christianity Today, February 10, 1992, p. 38.
John Wesley used to ask his young men whom he had sent out to preach on probation two questions: "Has any one been converted?" and
"Did any one get mad?" If the answer was "No," he told them he did not
think the Lord had called them to preach the Gospel, and sent them about their business.
When the Holy Ghost convicts of sin, people are either converted or they don't like it,
and get mad.
Moody's Anecdotes, P. 123.
During the time of slavery, a slave was preaching with great power. His master heard of it, and sent for him, and said:
"I understand you are preaching?"
"Yes," said the slave.
"Well, now," said the master, "I will give you all the time you
need, and I want you to prepare a sermon on the Ten Commandments, and to bear down
especially on stealing, because there is a great deal of stealing on the plantation."
The slave's countenance fell at once. He said he wouldn't like to do that; there wasn't the warmth in that subject there was in
"I have noticed that people are satisfied when you preach about the sins of the patriarchs, but they don't like it when you touch
upon the sins of today. "
Moody's Anecdotes, p. 91.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, known as "the prince of preachers," felt he
delivered his sermon so poorly one Sunday that he was ashamed of himself. As he walked away
from his church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, he wondered how any good
from that message. When he arrived home, he dropped to his knees and prayed, "Lord
God, You can do something with nothing. Bless that poor sermon."
In the months that followed, 41 people said that they had decided to trust Christ as Saviour because of that "weak"
message. The following Sunday, to make up for his previous "failure," Spurgeon had prepared a "great" sermon -- but no one
Spurgeon's experience underscores two important lessons for all who serve the Lord.
First, we need the blessing of God on our efforts. Solomon said in Psalm 127:1,
"Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it." And second,
our weakness is an occasion for the working of God's power. The apostle Paul said, "I take pleasure in infirmities, in
reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2
Our Daily Bread, May 18, 1992.
When Charles Spurgeon sent his ministerial students out to pastor churches, he gave
this charge: "Cling tightly with both your hands: When they fail, catch hold with
your teeth; and if they give way, hang on by your eyelashes!"
W. Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching &
Preachers, p. 220.
The story has been told about several famous preachers, but it actually happened to Joseph Parker, minister of the City Temple
in London. An old lady waited on Parker in his vestry after a service to thank him for the help she received from his sermons.
"You do throw such wonderful light on the Bible, doctor," she said. "Do you know that until this morning, I had always thought
that Sodom and Gomorrah were man and wife?"
W. Wiersby, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching &
Preachers, Moody, 1984, p. 213.
A Presbyterian deacon once asked one of Campbell Morgan's grandsons if he intended to become a preacher like his
grandfather, his father, and his uncles. (All of Morgan's four sons went into the ministry.) "No, sir!" said the lad. "I'm
going to work!"
W. Wiersby, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching &
Preachers, Moody, 1984, p. 213.
Early in his ministry, when he was pastor of the Congregational Church at
Rugeley, Campbell Morgan studied hard and preached often. He was discovering and developing the gift of Bible
exposition that later made him the prince of expositors. His preaching made him popular. One evening, as he sat in his study,
he felt God saying to him, "What are you going to be, a preacher or My messenger?" As Morgan pondered the question, he realized
that his desire to become a "great preacher" was hindering his work. For several hours Morgan sat there struggling with God's
call and human ambition.
Finally he said, "Thy messenger, my Master--Thine!" He took the precious outlines of his sermons,
messages that he was proud of, and laid them in the fireplace where they burned to ashes. That was when the victory was won.
As the outlines were burning, Morgan prayed: "If Thou wilt give me Thy words to speak, I will utter them from this day forward,
adding nothing to them, taking naught away. Thine whole counsel I will declare, so help me God!"
W. Wiersby, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching &
Preachers, Moody, 1984, p. 212.
Whatever you do, let the people see that you are in good earnest...You cannot break men's hearts by jesting with them, or
telling them a smooth tale, or patching up a gaudy oration. Men will not cast away their dearest pleasures upon a drowsy request of one that seemeth
not to mean as he speaks, or to care much whether his request be granted.
The Reformed Pastor.
Hugh Lattimer once preached before King Henry VIII. Henry was greatly displeased by the boldness in the sermon and ordered
Lattimer to preach again on the following Sunday and apologize for the offence he had given. The next Sunday, after reading his text, he thus began
his sermon: "Hugh Lattimer, dost thou know before whom thou are this day to speak? To
the high and mighty monarch, the king's most excellent majesty, who can take away thy
life, if thou offendest. Therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may
displease. But then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou
Whose message thou are sent? Even by the great and mighty God, Who is all-present and Who
beholdeth all thy ways and Who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore, take care
that thou deliverest thy message faithfully."
He then preached the same sermon he had
preached the preceding Sunday--and with considerably more energy.
M. Cocoris, Evangelism, A Biblical Approach, Moody,
1984, p. 126.
An English preacher of the last generation used to say that he cared very little what he said the first half hour, but he cared
a very great deal what he said the last fifteen minutes. I remember reading many years ago an address published to students by Henry Ward Beecher,
in which he gave a very striking account of a sermon by Jonathan Edwards. Beecher says
that in the elaborated doctrinal part of Jonathan Edwards' sermon the great preacher was
only getting his guns into position, but that in his applications he opened fire on the
enemy. There are too many of us, I am afraid, who take so much time getting our guns into
position that we have to finish without firing a shot. We say that we leave the truth to
do its own work. We trust to the heats and consciences of our hearers to apply it. Depend
upon it, gentlemen, this is a great and fatal mistake.
Dr. Dale, quoted in Preaching, G.
Campbell Morgan, p. 89.
There is a tale told of that great English actor Macready. An eminent preacher once said to him: "I wish you would explain to
me something." "Well, what is it? I don't know that I can explain anything to a preacher." "What is the reason for the
difference between you and me? You are appearing before crowds night after night with
fiction, and the crowds come wherever you go. I am preaching the essential and
unchangeable truth, and I am not getting any crowd at all." Macready's answer was
this: "This is quite simple. I can tell you the difference between us. I present my
fiction as though it were truth; you present your truth as though it were fiction."
G. Campbell Morgan, Preaching, p. 36.
A lot of preaching is motivated by love for preaching, not love of people.
For your people's sakes,...look to your heart.
A prepared messenger is more important than a prepared message.
Don't unsay with your life what you say with your tongue.
Study universal holiness of life. Your whole usefulness depends on this.
Never rely on the cleverness of the exposition, but on the Holy Spirit.
All God's giants have been weak men and women who did great things for God because they reckoned on God's power and presence being with them.
Dr. Clarence Bass, professor emeritus at Bethel Theological Seminary, early in his ministry preached in a church in Los
Angeles. He thought he had done quite well as he stood at the door greeting people as they left the sanctuary. The remarks
about his preaching were complimentary. That is, until a little old man commented, "You preached too long." Dr. Bass wasn't
fazed by the remark, especially in light of the many positive comments. "You didn't preach loud enough," came another negative
comment; it was from the same little old man. Dr. Bass thought it strange that the man
had come through the line twice, but when the same man came through the line a third time
and exclaimed, "You used too many big words" --this called for some explanation.
Dr. Bass sought out a deacon who stood nearby and asked him, "Do you see that little
old man over there? Who is he?" "Don't pay any attention to him," the
deacon replied. "All he does is go around and repeat everything he hears."
Pulpit and Bible Study Helps, Vol 16, #5, p. 1.
In a recent issue of Glass Window, a contributor recalls that several years ago, The British Weekly published this provocative
letter: It seems ministers feel their sermons are very important and spend a great deal
of time preparing them. I have been attending church quite regularly for 30 years and I
have probably heard 3,000 of them. To my consternation, I discovered I cannot remember a
single sermon. I wonder if a minister's time might be more profitable spent on something
For weeks a storm of editorial responses ensued. . . finally ended by this letter: I
have been married for 30 years. During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals--mostly my
wife's cooking. Suddenly I have discovered I cannot remember the menu of a single meal.
And yet . . . I have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to
death long ago.
It was King James I, I believe, who became annoyed with the irrelevant ramblings of his court preacher and shouted up to the
pulpit: "Either make sense or come down out of that pulpit!" The preacher replied, "I will do neither."
Steve Brown, in Tabletalk, August, 1990.
Mr. Wesley, at the age of 87, in a letter to Alexander Mather, uttered these thrilling words: "Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but
sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or
laymen: such alone will shake the gates of hell, and set up the Kingdom on Heaven upon
Resource, July/August, 1990.
John Wesley used to ask two questions of the young men whom he sent out to preach. The first was, "Has any one been converted?"
If the answer was, "No," he told them he did not think the Lord had called them to preach the Gospel, and he sent them back to
their business. When the Holy Ghost convicts of sin, people are either converted or--they don't like it and get
D.L. Moody, in Resource, July/August, 1990.
The longest sermon on record was preached by Clinton Lacy of West Richland, Washington
in February of 1955. It took 48 hours and 18 minutes to deliver it. Small wonder someone
proposed the adoption of a new Beatitude: "Blessed is the preacher whose train of thought has a
E. Eugene Williams.
When Roy DeLamotte was chaplain at Paine College in Georgia, he preached the shortest sermon in the college's history. However,
he had a rather long topic--"What does Christ Answer When We Ask, "Lord,
What's in Religion for Me?" The complete content of his sermon was in one word:
"Nothing." He later explained that the one-word sermon was meant for people
brought up on the 'gimme-gimme' gospel. When asked how long it took him to prepare the
message, he said, "Twenty years."
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was a brilliant theologian whose sermons had an overwhelming impact on those who heard him. One
in particular, his famous "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," moved hundreds to repentance and salvation. That single message helped to spark the
revival known as "The Great Awakening" (1734-1744). From a human standpoint, it
seems incredible that such far-reaching results could come from one message. Edwards did
not have a commanding voice or impressive pulpit manner. He used very few gestures, and he
read from a manuscript. Yet God's Spirit moved upon his hearers with conviction and power.
Few know the spiritual preparation involved in that sermon. John Chapman gives us the
story: "For 3 days Edwards had not eaten a mouthful of food; for 3 nights he had not
closed his eyes in sleep. Over and over again he was heard to pray, "O Lord, give me
New England! Give me New England!' When he arose from his knees and made his way into the
pulpit that Sunday, he looked as if he had been gazing straight into the face of God. Even
before he began to speak, tremendous conviction fell upon his audience."
After a long, dry sermon, the minister announced that he wished to meet with the church board following the close of the service. The first man to
arrive was a stranger. "You misunderstood my announcement. This is a meeting of the
board," said the minister. "I know," said the man, "but if there is
anyone here more bored than I am, I'd like to meet him."
My young son asked what was the highest number I had ever counted to. I didn't know but
asked about his highest number. It was "5372." "Oh," I said. "Why
did you stop there?" "Church was over."
Joanne Weil, in August 1986,
It was important for Peter to bring known truths to remembrance. Believers are apt to forget them, and then they do not exert the influence that they
ought. Amid the cares, the business, the amusements, and the temptations of the world, the
ministers of the gospel render us an essential service, even if they do nothing more than remind us of truths which are well understood,
and which we have known before. A pastor need not always aim at originality; he renders
an essential service to mankind when he reminds them of what they know but are prone to
forget. He endeavors to impress plain and familiar truths on the heart and conscience, for these truths are most important for mankind.
Though we may be very firm in our belief of the truth, yet it is appropriate that the grounds of our faith should be stated to us frequently, that they
may be always in our remembrance.
A man went to see his doctor for advice about being cured of snoring. The doctor asked, "Does your snoring disturb your
The patient replied, "Does it disturb my wife? Why it disturbs the entire congregation."