Credibility, Clarity, and Connection in the Ministry of God's Word
by George P. Wood
In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, the apostle Paul wrote a sentence that should revolutionize the way we preach: “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” The Second Helvetic Confession accurately sums up the gist of this sentence when it declares, “The preaching of the Word of God is the word of God.” Preaching is God speaking to our churches and communities through us.
If this is what preaching is, three questions naturally follow:
First, do our lives lend credibility to our sermons? People see us before they hear us. If what they see is inconsistent with what they hear, they will conclude that we are hypocrites. And nobody pays attention to a hypocrite. Would you listen to a gossip talk about confidentiality, a glutton about self-control, an adulterer about sexual morality? No, of course not. It is imperative, therefore, that we practice what we preach, live what we teach, and walk how we talk.
This does not mean preachers must be perfect, by the way. For about a year in the mid-1990s, I suffered clinical depression. I have found that speaking openly about this dark period in my life actually enhances my credibility. It humanizes me. It lets my audience know that I am with them, not above them. And because I am with them, I can show how God led me through sadness to joy in the Lord, and how God can do the same for them. Authenticity, about both our triumphs and our struggles, enhances our credibility as preachers. (See “The Preaching Life: An Interview with Dan Betzer, Saturnino Gonzalez, and Bryan Jarrett,” for more on this topic.)
Second, do our sermons set forth God’s Word with clarity? I have worn glasses since I was 2 1/2 years old. Without them I cannot see anything clearly that is more than 2 or 3 inches from my face. When I put on my glasses, however, the world comes into focus. Our preaching of the Word of God should be like corrective lenses for spiritually unfocused eyes. When we preach, people should see the beauty of holiness and the sinfulness of sin in sharp relief. They should see the grace of God to forgive and the power of the Spirit to transform. Above all, they should see Jesus Christ, who himself is the Word of God (John 1:1–3,14), the fulfillment of all God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:20), and the whole point of Scripture (Luke 24:27). If we are not preaching Christ, we are not preaching at all. (See “We Preach Christ Crucified: Rhetoric in the Service of Jesus Christ” by Deborah M. Gill.)
Third, does our preaching make a connection with our audience? Proverbs 15:23 says, “a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (KJV). When we preach, we preach to particular people in particular places at particular times. We do not preach funeral sermons at weddings. We do not deliver learned disquisitions on complex theological themes to first graders. We do not use rural examples with city dwellers. We match tone, content, and illustration with occasion, learning, and experience. Why? Because that is what God himself does when He speaks to us through Scripture. He used the language of the people to talk about the pressing issues of the day. He spoke a word in due season.
Making a connection with our hearers is not the same thing as scratching their “itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3). Preaching the Word of God means preaching what our churches and communities need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. It entails afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. But we cannot do either of these things if we do not know the language, education level, or life situation of our hearers. If we want to be heard, then, we must know our audience.
If preaching is God speaking to our churches and communities through us, then effective preaching happens when credible preachers deliver clear messages that make a connection with their audiences’ needs. As an aid to help us develop more effective pulpit ministries in our churches, the editors of Enrichment offer the following articles, which I have grouped together under the banner of credibility, clarity, and connection:
- Credibility: Rick Warren, Jodi Detrick, Herbert Cooper, and Tom Lindberg.
- Clarity: George O. Wood, Doug Green, and Doug Clay.
- Connection: Stephen Lim, DeLonn Rance, and Dick Foth.
May God bless your preaching of His Word.