Today I’d like to look at the last conviction every minister ought to have settled in his own mind before ever beginning to preach. Once that is handled, starting tomorrow we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of sermon preparation.
So what is this final conviction? It’s what you believe about you and your people. What sort of relationship are you to bear to those people to whom you will preach?
Your first conviction must be that your are very similar to your hearers. You cannot imagine that you are any better than they are. In fact, you may well be “less than the least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8). You are what you are by the grace of God, and the constant awareness that “I am no better than them” will produce humility, sympathy, watchfulness, and a willingness to hear constructive criticism.
The other side of the coin, however, is that that though the preacher is not by nature any better than his hearers, he has to be different from them. I’m not arguing for aloofness and detachment; nevertheless, much has been given to the preacher, and to whomever much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48). The preacher is to be an example to his hearers and to set higher standards than the mean.
In the secular realm, Aristotle taught that the orator must establish a reputation with his hearers for discretion, probity and good-will towards them. How much more true is this in the realm of the sacred?
I can think of no better challenge than that laid down by R.L. Dabney in this regard:
Without a sacred weight of character, the most splendid rhetoric will win only a short-lived applause; with it the plainest scriptural instructions are eloquent to win souls. Eloquence may dazzle and please; holiness of life convinces… The pastor’s character speaks more loudly than his tongue. (Evangelical Eloquence [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979], 261, 263.)
By holding this apparent paradox of similar but different, the preacher will “be an example to the believers, in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12), while staying humble, approachable and understanding.