It’s not my title. I’m borrowing it from William Quayle, pastor of large congregations in Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Chicago over a period of 30 years (1894–1925). Out of that extended, varied experience Quayle proposed something that every preacher sensitive to the state of his own soul comes to know all too remorsefully. There is little trouble to preach, if only there be a preacher, he observed. Preacher-ing, not preach-ing, is the task.
That thesis cuts to the heart of the question of what makes for empowered preaching. Unquestionably, natural abilities, supernatural gifts, training, hard work, providential opportunities, and a pleasing combination of many lesser factors play their part. But Quayle’s contention was that it is impossible to exaggerate the critical contribution of the preacher’s own spiritual life.
A given sermon is the preacher to date. The sermon is an act; and to this act the preacher brings himself, all himself, the acquisition of his years. … A sermon is not a piece of carpentry, but a piece of life— a spacious heart, a spacious brain, a spacious sympathy talking out loud. A great preacher like Paul did not fashion his speech, but fashioned himself. … and a preacher-man’s business is to amass a life of cubic dimensions, to the end that he may evoke the great power and utter the great words.
Was Quayle overreaching to stress the preacher’s life so dogmatically? It depends, perhaps, on what proportion of the preaching the preacher is himself. In what may be the most oft-quoted definition of preaching, another veteran, Phillips Brooks, proposed that proportion when he offered, “Our description of real preaching is truth through personality.”
There are only two vitals to preaching, Brooks was arguing, and the preacher (personality is his word for it) is one half of them. Brooks, of course, was not dismissing the all-essential ministry of the Spirit when he defined preaching in this way. He was simply describing the elements that the preacher, rather than God, is responsible for—his content and his life. Preaching, he was arguing, is not God’s Word alone. Nor is it even God’s Word through a human voice. Preaching is God’s Word through a human being. Being is a sine qua non of preaching. Its power, therefore, is increased or diminished inevitably by the nature of that being.
The truth must come through the person, Brooks continued, not merely over his lips. It must come through his character, his affections, his whole intellectual and moral being. It must come genuinely through him. I think that, granting equal intelligence and study, here is the great difference between two preachers of the Word. The gospel has come over one of them and reaches us tinged and flavored with his superficial characteristics, belittled with his littleness. The gospel has come through the other, and we receive it impressed and winged with all the earnestness and strength that is in him.
Now I would like for us to consider that this emphasis is not a new, but an old Biblical law that preachers have been given from the beginning. It is necessary, the ancient and inviolable law commands, for an overseer to be 17 things, 16 of which have to do with personal life, not vocational skill (1 Tim. 3:2–7). Paul challenged Timothy to be a type continually in six areas of character and conduct (1 Tim. 4:12); for despite even chronological youth, such a six-fold example prevents your being despised personally. There is a self-cleansing, the apostle assured the same apprentice, whereby the Lord’s workman shall be an honorable vessel who has been sanctified and is now useful to the Master, prepared for every good work (2 Tim. 2:21). And when it comes to the use of the God-breathed Scripture in the man of God’s own life, those holy letters are profitable for disciplining him in four ways so that he may be personally complete and completely equipped for every good work—especially that best and most necessary of all good works, preaching the Word (2 Tim. 3:16–4:2)!
It is the preacher’s being that is emphasized in all of these texts, and in others as well. It’s thy profiting which is to be to others a shining appearance of the first magnitude (1 Tim. 4:15). It’s taking heed unto thyself which precedes even taking heed unto the fundamentals of the faith, and for want of which even the fundamentals fail to save either yourself or your hearers (1 Tim. 4:16). It’s the man of God’s personal pursuit of six blameless virtues which is one of the convincing confirmations of his confession that he has himself laid hold upon eternal life and is not one of those men depraved in mind and deprived of truth who are imagining that a show of godliness will profit their pocket. Therefore, be continually showing yourself a type, an impression formed by the blow of your doctrine upon yourself, in order that anyone who opposes you may be put to shame because he has nothing evil to say, not only of your doctrine, but of you (Titus 2:7–8).
No question, then, that Quayle was not exaggerating. His thesis stands the scrutiny of Scripture. He was right when he asked and then answered, “Preaching is the art of making a sermon and delivering it? Why, no, that is not preaching. Preaching is the art of making a man and delivering that.”
To be continued…
Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.
(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)