Shoddy Preaching

In chapter eight of his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin wrote:

Though I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of its propriety, and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia. He used to visit me sometimes as a friend, and admonished me to attend his administrations, and I was now and then prevailed on to do so, once for five Sundays successively. Had he been in my opinion a good preacher, perhaps I might have continued, notwithstanding the occasion I had for the Sunday’s leisure in my course of study; but his discourses were chiefly either polemic arguments, or explications of the peculiar doctrines of our sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting, and unedifying, since not a single moral principle was inculcated or enforced, their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than good citizens.

At length he took for his text that verse of the fourth chapter of Philippians, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report, if there be any virtue, or any praise, think on these things.” And I imagined, in a sermon on such a text, we could not miss of having some morality. But he confined himself to five points only, as meant by the apostle, viz.:

1.  Keeping holy the Sabbath day.
2.  Being diligent in reading the holy Scriptures.
3.  Attending duly the public worship.
4.  Partaking of the Sacrament.
5.  Paying a due respect to God’s ministers.

These might be all good things; but, as they were not the kind of good things that I expected from that text, I despaired of ever meeting with them from any other, was disgusted, and attended his preaching no more.

Shame on that Presbyterian minister! While due consideration of the unregenerate condition of Franklin 418CT9YYASLleading to his neglect of the church and the possibility of excuse making must be given; nevertheless, from his description of the situation one can glean enough information to conclude that his preacher missed a golden opportunity. And—note the fact—it was his shoddy preaching that drove Franklin away. If it was his desire to hear only morality rather than doctrine that “disgusted” him, one might make allowances for the unregenerate mind. But clearly, it seems that it was more than that. The preacher simply didn’t know how to preach. It sounds like he was a poor exegete who missed the point of the text and who was bent on lecturing people rather than preaching to them. Franklin’s assessment doesn’t seem too far off the mark.

The Word of the living God is not boring. It is not irrelevant. It is only poor preachers who make it seem so. What kind of preacher are you? How would Franklin have evaluated your sermon last week, preacher? In his book Preaching According to the Holy Spirit Jay offers solid help drawing from the preaching of the Apostles in the Book of Acts and from his own experience of over 50 years teaching pastors how to preach the Word. Order your own copy or purchase one for your pastor. He will thank you, and so will those who hear him preach.