Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

FOR JUNE 22, 2003


Preaching without enthusiasm is a good way to kill a church


            During my years as a pastor, I seldom had the opportunity to hear anyone else preach. Now that I am retired, I get to sit in the pew occasionally and listen to someone else deliver the sermon. I am both encouraged and perplexed by what I have heard.

            I have heard some good preachers. They held my attention, kept me awake, and prompted me to think. I am frankly impressed by the preacher who, obviously well prepared, knows what he wants to say, and says it with conviction.

            It helps me stay on board with a preacher who makes eye contact with me. If the preacher keeps looking at the ceiling, I begin to lose interest. I want to believe that the preacher is actually speaking to me as well as everyone else.

            Any preacher will tell you that he is always deeply moved when, after hearing a sermon, one of his parishioners will say, “You were speaking directly to me; I felt like you had been reading my mail.” Preachers know this is clear evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in that person’s heart.

            I do not object to the preacher’s use of a manuscript in the pulpit, although I personally prefer the freedom of having no notes at all. Some preachers who use a manuscript do so quite skillfully and are able to preach with great power.

            What does bother me is for the preacher to keep his head in his manuscript and look only occasionally at his audience. It is one thing to use a manuscript to deliver a convincing message. It is another simply to read a message without excitement. One may be helpful and persuasive. The other very boring.

            Granny Mac is 88. She loves God. She loves her church. As we sat together recently, she began talking about her church.

            “Our pastor is a good man,” she said. “He loves God and he loves his people. But he simply can’t preach. Mostly he reads his sermon, and that is not very inspiring.”

            Her comment reminded me of what my wife used to say when I read my sermons from a manuscript. Crisply, she said, “Since we can all read, why not save us some time by just passing out copies of your sermon and let us read it at home?”

            I give my wife credit for pushing me until finally I discovered that I could preach without notes. And doing so was exhilarating! I had no idea the degree of freedom that awaited me when I found the courage to leave my manuscript on my desk.

            To say that a preacher is a good man who cannot preach paints a disturbing picture. It is much like a farmer saying, “My milk cow is a good cow but she does not give milk.” Or, “My chicken is a good chicken, but she never lays eggs.”

            What is worse, however, is for a preacher to be a good preacher without being a good man. Sadly, we must admit that is sometimes the case.

            I must confess, however, that what troubles me the most is the preacher who lacks enthusiasm. There is no excuse for a preacher of the eternal gospel to stand in the pulpit and mumble his way through to the benediction as though he were on a mission to bore people to death. Yet I have seen it done more times than I like to recall.

            How can a preacher understand anything at all about the good news of the gospel and still be bored? It is a mystery to me. And if the preacher is not excited about God, how can he ever expect his people to become excited?

            The answer, sadly, may be that some preachers may have lost their enthusiasm long ago and have lost the hope of ever recovering it. Like some of their bored people, they are simply in a holding pattern, trying to make it to heaven by the skin of their teeth.

            Some churches are dying, and don’t know it. One big reason may be the lack of fire in the pulpit. Preaching without enthusiasm will eventually kill a church.   

            The work of ministry is hard work. Pastors cannot inspire their people with pabulum from the pulpit. Sermons that are inspiring, and intellectually challenging, demand hard work. Serious study, careful preparation, and earnest prayer are required from the preacher who wishes to offer people a fresh word from the Lord that sets their hearts on fire.

            Pitiful it is to hear a preacher say, “I have no idea what I am going to preach this morning; I am simply going to depend on the Holy Spirit to tell me what to say.” That is hogwash. Nowhere in the Bible do I find God saying, “You need not study; just open your mouth and I will fill it with good stuff.”

            Too often, I am afraid, the Holy Spirit is blamed for sloppy, careless preaching, and just as often fails to receive the credit due for effective preaching.

            The effectiveness of preaching does depend, of course, upon the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Without the anointing, preaching is sterile. However, that in no way nullifies the need to study diligently.

            The wise preacher will study as though it all depends upon careful preparation, and then preach as though his effectiveness depends entirely upon the Spirit of God.

            Pessimism, indifference, and discouragement abound in our churches. Some of our churches seem more like funeral chapels than a sanctuary of the living God. Little wonder, however, that there is no excitement in the pew when the one in the pulpit is mumbling insipid platitudes with the enthusiasm of a fence post.

            Lazy, dull preachers cannot motivate people to believe the promises of God and surrender “all to Jesus.” Uninspired people will never experience the thrill of “standing on the promises;” they will merely continue to sit on the premises, dully supposing that is all there is to church.

             On the other hand, preachers who are willing to do “whatever it takes” to be well prepared to preach the Word with power and excitement can expect God to make their voices as compelling as a trumpet on Sunday morning. Time on our knees will enhance greatly our time in the pulpit. + + + +