There are many things that veteran preachers can do that are very difficult, if not impossible, for the neophyte. In this article, I’d like to make a couple of observations about practices both to avoid and to follow. It is my hope that not only young preachers, but also their longsuffering congregations, will be helped by these suggestions.
One of the unfortunate tendencies evident in many young preachers is the inclination to preach abstractly. Passages full of excitement and flavor are wrung dry as they are twisted and wound into distorted shapes conforming to some plan that is imposed upon them by overzealous, youthful homeliticians who think that abstract and impersonal “points” are superior to normal human speech. This tendency comes from poor teaching in the seminaries, from the sort of dull materials to which seminarians have been exposed for three or more years, and from the perversity of youth who think that this is the way to become sophisticated. As the result, congregations are fed a regular diet of
- The Nature of Truth (or whatever)
- The Necessity of Truth
- The Negative of Truth
As you readily can see, abstraction is not the only problem apparent in this outline. But, for a moment, let us stick with the abstraction problem. Instead of those boring and drab labels, “Nature” and “Necessity,” why not simply say
- Jesus is the Truth
- Jesus wants you to speak the truth, etc.?
You will say more; and as you do, you will say it directly, preaching (even in your “points”) to the congregation rather than merely analyzing a “subject.”
Doubtless, you have also noted that the penchant for alliteration that so many young preachers exhibit has led the youthful minister who composed the outline into bad practices. He squeezed into the outline point three, “The Negative of Truth,” even though it really didn’t fit, just to get another “N.” Neither the structure of the phrase nor the word “Negative” is apropos. What he meant to say was something like this: Look at the opposite, or (to continue our substitute outline)
3. Jesus wants you to stop Lying.
How often young men (and some older ones—watch out for preachers who always alliterate), enamored with alliteration, force the meaning of a passage for the sake of alliteration. Let me warn you that alliteration is useful only when it is natural, when it helps one to remember and when it clearly says what you want to say. Then it really can be useful. But any alliteration that distorts meaning always must be avoided.
Another related problem that young preachers have is the desire to preach abstract rather than concrete passages of Scripture. While the whole Bible must be preached, it cannot all be preached at once. Because that is true, the preacher must pick and choose the portions of Scripture from which he is going to preach. When he does so, the inexperienced preacher will be wise to choose those passages that by virtue of their form and content already have a lot of interest value in them, that are fairly extensive in length (rather than single verses or parts of verses) and that have in them people in action and in conversation. He would be well advised to preach from a number of the parables, miracles, and healings of Christ. Because of the way in which Luke handles these events (giving suggestive details and focusing on people), I recommend that the young preacher get as many commentaries as he can afford on the Gospel of Luke (and perhaps borrow a few more from others’ libraries) and preach largely (though not exclusively) from this Gospel for the first couple of years.