This write up will be my notes and thoughts from reading ‘The Design for Preaching’ by Henry Grady Davis. I found his book to be rather hard to read (simply because it was more of a textbook), however much of his insight surely speaks to me, and I felt obliged to share.
“The aim of preaching is to win from men a response to the gospel, a response of attitude and impulse and feeling no less than of thought”.
It would seem that all to often we hear rather empty preaching, or a “3 point sermon” that highlights life values, however this is not the preaching that we read in Scripture by the Apostles, nor does in demonstrate the power of the Gospel.
“Christian leaders in Europe have reported that in times of supreme testing the church had to learn again something it had forgotten; how to read, preach, and hear the Word as God’s Word”.
“If you were born after 1930, it will not be easy for you to realize the change in theological climate since 1930”.
Sadly, in our day we see the fruition of what 16th century reformer, Martin Luther noted, “Unless spiritual knowledge and the Spirit himself speak through the preachers…the final result will be that everyone preaches his own whims, and instead of the gospel and its exposition we shall again have sermons on blue ducks”.
Sermons that sound great, filled with ‘fantastic information’ yet lack any truth or reason-ability. We must get back to teaching the radical message of Biblical Christianity, not settle for common-day religious idealism.
- The Gospel
Mr. Davis makes quite a few poignant points regarding the gospel:
“We who preach and those who hear us are far removed from the Bible times and the Bible’s world of thought. The texts and incidents of the Gospels frequently have to be explained by means of historical and textual studies before their real meaning can be understood. Our task is not to extract “permanent values” from outdated material, but rather to discover what the Bible’s message meant to it’s contemporaries”. (Demonstrating our need for ‘audience relevance’)
“The Gospel is meant for everybody, but it cannot become what everybody would like it to be”.
“The Word reveals what we could never discover or guess. It affirms God’s uncaused and unconditional love for every man, while the world of nature and culture seems indifferent. It discloses our condition as so wrong and desperate that God must take its deadly consequences upon Himself, while our instinct is to vindicate our condition. The Word of God calls us to a way we would not choose to go. It tells us the self we are must die that the self God wills may be born. Yet all the time we are struggling to preserve at any cost the self that is. The Word calls us to a life by trust in Him, when we can reasonably expect success only through our own wisdom and power”.
“The Gospel is the news of God’s redemptive action in Jesus Christ our Lord, revealing God’s love toward men and His purpose in history, manifesting at once His judgment and His mercy, furnishing a new basis for the relationship between men and God – compassion, forgiveness, unmerited favor and help -and calling into being a reconstituted humanity joined with Christ and living no longer by its biological possibilities but by participation in Christ’s life”.
“If the gospel is not preached, it cannot be heard. If the gospel is not heard, we cannot expect our so-called churches to be more than human institutions, clubs of religious-minded people; we cannot hope that they will contain a reconstituted humanity, the community of Christ’s love”.
And sadly, is that not the case?
- Gospel Reality – One New Man
“The entrance on this new existence took place when one heard and believed the gospel”.
I just finished preaching an entire series at the Blue Point Bible Church (www.bluepointbiblechurch.org) that detailed the Gospel as the formation of the ‘new body’ – the One New Man. I love what Mr. Davis had to say in that regard- something the common ‘Evangelical gospel’ is all to often missing is an understanding of this ‘one new man’.
“Being in this new existence, however, the Christian needed to understand it as far as he is able. Teaching is needed in order to understand the meaning and the basis of his new existence, to explicate the content of the faith, to make his life conform to his faith”.
“It is hard for a modern person to feel the revolutionary character of the gospel as the early church felt it. The early Christians knew themselves to be living – jointly with one another and with Christ, in God – as completely changed and reconstituted humanity, in an existence on an entirely knew basis, in a new age which was at the same time a fulfillment of God’s ancient purpose and promise…. it was that they were newly created persons in a newly created world”.
“But if the church is a reconstituted humanity, a newly created community of Christ’s love, then its continuance on earth depends on a constant miracle of grace, a person-by-person recreation by the power of God at work in the gospel. The church is where the gospel is preached: and that is the first sign of its presence. Where the gospel is not preached, there may still be a flourishing institution. Only one thing cannot possibly be where the gospel is not preached: the church cannot be there”.
As I observe all that is going on in the world, and watch pastor after pastor remark how the gospel is needed – I find myself convicted. I desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of God to the extend that I walk worthy of my calling and explain the Gospel in a clear, concise manner. Not to mention, also that I demonstrate in a true and reasonable fashion how the Gospel is the solution to our contemporary ills.
For the remainder of this ‘write-up’, I will share thoughts from Mr. David that exhorted, edified, and convicted me in regards to my preaching of the gospel.
At the outset, two points that really stood out to me in regards to the ‘Design for Preaching”were:
“No sermon is ready for preaching, nor ready for writing out, until we can express the theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as a crystal”. – John Henry Jowett
“If the preacher tries to cover too broad a subject, he will say too much, too many good things, and will not share even one of them with his hearers”.
- Preparations for Preaching –
“If a man is called to preach, then, he is called to work in the great art of oral communication, and is called to cultivate all the sense and skill he can”.
“A well-prepared sermon is the embodiment, the development, the full statement of a significant thought”.
“The minister much preach out of a busy life, full of hard work”.
Those three points mark out the growth of my call. Being that I know I am called to preach I do what I can to learn and grow how to be a better oral communicator. Also, knowing how to formulate my ideas into a fully developed thought has been a progressive journey for me.
An honest tension that I have had, and an area where I am growing is in taking my billions of notes (that’s hardly an exaggeration) and working through them, not to get lost in the details, but rather to bring out a point that the human heart identifies with. It’s my role to make sense of the details, speak to the lives of the congregation, and illuminate the truth of God as an “interpretation of life”.
“To learn to preach, a man must develop his sense of form, his feeling for the shape and organic structure of a thought”. – “He must stop getting lost in the details and study the essential structure of sermons”.
“The preacher may be so interested in the antique world or in the methods of research that he never gets beyond them, never gets down to the here and now”.
“A preacher of the gospel should learn to approach his text from a point of view in keeping with the universality of the human heart, with the identity of the human condition before God, and with the presence and the lordship of Christ.”
“A man who mounts a pulpit and speaks to his fellows cannot choose whether or not to be an interpreter of life”. – “The only question is what kind of a picture he will draw”.
“For the preacher of the gospel, however he sees the dark state of man, must see no less clearly man’s possibilities under the grace of God”.
“In a sense all serious discussion of the preacher’s relationship the to society in which he lives, and of what he has to say to it, involve assumptions with regard to the interpretation of life”.
“…no other preparation whatever can be so valuable to the preacher and to his hearers as the idea clearly thought out and brought to scrupulous expression”.
Quite the calling, huh?
Thank God for the simple pieces of wisdom that Mr. David shares. I know I will be putting some of this advice to practice this Sunday. Consider some of the following advice in putting together “clearly thought out” messages that are “brought to a scrupulous expression”.
“First one studies his text and amasses his notes. Next he discovers his true subject, what he should talk about. Next he decides what is the all important, the all-inclusive thing the sermon ought to say about it. This is the idea or theme in substance. But now, at this point, he does the hard but rewarding work of thinking it through and saying it in the fewest and truest words possible”.
“A fully written manuscript is no guarantee of a prepared sermon”.
No. Instead a prepared sermon should be the product of prayer, thinking, wrestling, and honesty in regards to what this truth means for us today. Also, a prepared sermon will not leave a rather confused crowd, rather a prepared sermon will offer clarity with context.
Mr. David provided some forms and formats that would allow a preacher to challenge the clarity of his message, Also, I found maybe printing out these question formats to allow listeners of my sermons the opportunity to seek out the details as they listen might be a good idea.
“As trees are not all of like organic structure, so sermons are not of all like structure”.
First, we consider Different Organic Forms of Sermon
X – Subject Discussed
X- Thesis Supported
X- Message Illuminated
X- Question Propounded
X- Story Told
After we know what style of form we are taking we allow the congregation to consider the following:
What is the man talking about?
What is he saying about it?
What does he mean?
Is it true? Do I believe it?
So what? What difference does it make?
“These are the questions a good reader intuitively asks when studying a book, an author, or a system of thought. An intelligent listener, almost any listener, is consciously or unconsciously asking about any sermon he/she hears”.
“In a sermon is well designed these questions can be all answered satisfactorily”.
A preacher might consider the following format:
What am I to talk about?
What must be said about it?
What does this idea mean?
Do I, my hearers believe it?
Why or why not?
What difference does it make if its true?
What are its consequences to me and my listeners?
And finally, if we have not been too hard on the preacher yet, here are some last points that should be considered.
The preacher should learn to express himself in as few words as possible.
He should learn to use words that sound well together.
He should cultivate a preference for short, strong, clear, familiar words.
He should cultivate a preference for sensuous rather than abstract, and specific rather than general words.
He should rely on strong nouns and verbs to carry the weight of his thought.
As I endeavor to “walk worthy” of my calling to preach, by the power and grace of God,I pray that those listening to me preach will be edified by my work, and continual growth.
In Service to Him,
Pastor Michael Miano
Blue Point Bible Church