Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 9, 2005


A simple message is not enough to make preaching effective


          Preaching is not an easy task these days. Our culture is increasingly visual. Television combines visual images with words, so people want more than talk when they go to church.

          Wise preachers are learning how to inject visual imagery into sermons. They do this with brief clips from movies and other sources. Words are still important but people learn with their eyes as well as their ears.

          Recall, for example, how we learned about the tragic results of the recent tsunami. We saw it on television. Though the media had no professional cameras rolling, they showed us amateur footage made by people who grabbed cameras to film the powerful waves crashing ashore.

Thus ABC did more than have Peter Jennings sit at a desk and talk about the tragic devastation; they told the story visually and orally.

          When I was preaching every Sunday, I tried hard to give people a simple message, one they could remember, one they could understand. I felt I had succeeded when someone said, “Your sermons are so simple that even the children can understand you.” Some may have said that to insult me but I received it as a compliment. I honestly thought I had failed if I had not reached the children with my message.

          Simplicity can be a problem, however. The danger is that we can become too cute, too “rinky dink,” until the message has no real meat to it. Simplicity then must be combined with substance for the sermon to be worth sharing.

          A hundred years ago people lived in an oral culture. The good preachers gave people sermons they could remember and even repeat. They did this with simple outlines that helped people remember the basic elements of the Gospel.

          Fred Craddock, one of the great preachers of our time, has taught the art of preaching for many years. He insists that preachers need to preach in such a way that their people can learn to “say the faith.” Craddock says people are reluctant to share their faith because their preachers have not taught them how to speak, or say, their faith.

          In a recent convocation on evangelism, Craddock shared a conversation he had with a friend who was an African American pastor. He asked the pastor what he thought was the problem with preaching today. The pastor replied, “Singing is the problem.”

          “What do you mean?” Craddock asked.

          “I mean,” he said, “where you have only a dab of singing, you have only a dab of preaching.”

          His audience, mostly preachers, laughed. All of us understood how necessary good singing is for there to be good preaching in worship. Music sets the stage, prepares the heart, for the Spirit to use preaching.

          The faith, then, Craddock says, must be a faith we can say, and a faith we can sing. Singing it helps save it from the shrinkage of simplicity, since we can only sing the faith in majestic language that lifts the soul.

          One thing more, Craddock urges, and that is that the preacher must also live the faith in order for the sermon to set his people on fire and enable them to share the faith with others. If the preacher does not live the faith he proclaims, his words will be powerless.

          Thus the challenge for today’s preacher: craft and deliver a sermon that people can say, that people can sing, and that people can live. Add to that some visual images that help people see what you are saying, and you have preaching that will cause people to come back next Sunday for more!                                                        + + + +