I have a friend who asked me to help out in ministering at a local elderly care center Sunday afternoon. He preaches there every month, and was set to deliver the homiley. I have heard this fellow preach before. I always enjoy his sermons. Let me give you some reasons why.
1. He cares about what the text means. I am talking "big picture" here. He does not get overwhelmed with homiletic technique and his outline and such. I am not against homiletic technique per se (no, I am not, and all this in spite of the fact that I don't have a chapter and verse telling me what good homiletic technique is), but with young preachers (who should be working to refine their homiletic delivery) it can often obstruct the clear meaning of the text. With this man, the overarching message is very conscious in his mind, and he is concerned to present it as such, without letting snappy outlines encumber him. My point here is that he knows what the main sense of the passage is, and he is bent on delivering it.
2. He is not a "yeller." This fellow preaches nearly the same as he talks, perhaps with a slightly elevated tone. He is not into dramatics or anything like that. He does not yell. Ever. He is "emotional," but not falsely so or gushing over for the sake of keeping the crowd interested. He is emotional, though probably not in the sense that many think of "emotion," demanding vain displays and such to prove that they have this elusive emotion. And this is the same way he preaches when not before the elderly. He is not concerned to make a show or become the next "Billy Sunday," "Billy Graham," or "Tom Farrell" of the next generation. He is concerned with the Scriptures and presenting them ordinately. He knows that the Spirit will use the Word powerfully and has no intention of manipulating his audience in any way toward a decision.
This reminds me of something Mark Dever once said to preacher Dick Lucas, "You sound from the pulpit like you sound right now talking." Lucas replied, "Yes, I think [my mentor] Bash had a lot to do with that. He couldn't bear haughtiness, you know? When he started, I think, . . . in the 30's, young people's work was haughty. You had to jump in and out of the swimming pool to impress young people. And you had to wear long, sporty scarves if you were working among boys, you know, that sort of thing. I'm all for attracting youth through sport. . . . But I think he reacted against that haughtiness and felt that we should be normal as Christians and not shout and all these things. And he was very restrained, you know, he was very refined, and all that. And I think we learned just to speak naturally, because that was an expression of our faith that was natural."
I think that my friend would appreciate the remarks of Dick Lucas (except that part about using sport with youth).
3. He wonders at the text. Nobody wonders at the text like he wonders. For example, his text was John 12:27-36, which begins with Jesus' saying, "Now my soul is troubled." Most preachers today are going to tell me what "troubled" means in the "original Greek." But this man knows what troubled means, and he knows that we know what "troubled" means. Instead, he wonders Why was Jesus troubled? Very few preachers ask that, whom I ever hear preach. This is just one illustration. He wonders why the text says the things it does. And this is all from someone who knows Greek better than nearly any one I know. I am sure he is doing his preparatory work, even for a nursing home, from the Greek Testament. And sometimes, I am sure he would agree, we need to ask, "What does this particular word mean?" But it is far more important to him to ask the literary questions of the text. He is concerned with what the human author of the text means in a literary way.
Moreover, he pays attention to detail. Not silly details, but the important details that most overlook. He asks what the text is arguing and how it is arguing that. He knows both the whole of Scriptures and the immediate context well enough that other important details related to his text are not overlooked. He, again, cares about the text. His attention to detail, again, is done with a sort of wonder. He gleans the sort of insights that one only gleans from long and quiet meditation. I can only imagine that he thinks long and hard, turning the text over in his head many times before he preaches. All this comes from the heart of a man whom I know to be very dependent on the Lord for all things, including both his preparation and the preaching itself.
4. He knows theology. I am not advocating some kind of simple and unintellectual Christianity with these comments. What I am arguing for is an intelligent and informed and humane reading of the Scriptures, one that pushes the life of the mind to the limits of how much one has been gifted. And that is why I raise this last point. This man knows theology very well. His theology is brought to bear on the text and the text is informing his theology. He does not speak carelessly, or in a manner uninformed of the historic theological commitments of evangelical Christianity. He makes no theological missteps nor offers any throw-away remarks. Neither does he get so carried away with the passion of the moment that he sells precision for zeal. The importance of stressing a particular point does not force him to muddy the theological waters with over-extended rhetoric. His preaching is carefully informed theologically. This is just one more reason why the Lord uses it to minister to me so much.
I hope that I may someday learn to proclaim the gospel in the steps I have outlined above.