Preaching is more than merely spewing out fine words; it is, as H.E. Fosdick has put it, “drenching a congregation with one’s life-blood.” The preacher invests himself in the work of preaching, by making it a conduit for the expression of his own life, and experience of faith. It calls for discipline and wisdom in planning, execution, and sometimes delegation.
A Planned Approach
Jones is categorical that the preaching work cannot be done with quality without a methodical, systematic approach to the allocation and use of the minister’s time. In modern ministry, duties are many, and therefore the minister must be vigilant with time. Jones suggests six things to help preachers: accept that it is hard work, have regular study hours, systematize work with a view to automation, eschew procrastination, delegate tasks to laymen, and be assertive and focus on essentials.
While achieving these habits is difficult, it is the task the preacher has been called to, and no shortcut will avail success. As Samuel Johnson observed, “The man who tries to make it easy is always distraught.”
Health in Body and Mind
The preacher must likewise invest in his body instrument so as to allow it to be used efficiently for God’s glory. He must train his whole body and mind to prevent imbalances in the physical, mental and emotional states. Jones reflects that many preachers have neglected to do this while themselves preaching the virtues of such psychosomatic disciplines to their hearers. Many a time they have done the gospel the disservice of appearing, as Oliver Wendell Holmes has remarked, as undertakers. The experience of Robert Louis Stevenson should not be the lot of today’s congregations; church should provide inspiration, not depression. The minister’s attitude to his health with determine, in large part, which of these two effects is transmitted.
Personal Life and Christian Experience
The preacher’s life should be a source of credence and power to the message. It must show evidence of the kind of faith that takes hold of – possesses – one. Broadus calls this “vital Christian experience.” While congregations are often ready to forgive the trifles and foibles of human fallibility in their preachers, actual insincerity will hardly be forgiven or forgotten. The preacher’s life must seek to give an example of morality and holiness to which others may aspire. The tendency to indulge in base practices in the name of evangelistic condescension must be avoided.
Work and Happiness
The preacher must not be distracted by the allurements of other professions. Indeed, for Jones, this constitutes a test of calling. A truly called minister will work in the settled peace, satisfaction and joy of having been conscripted by the Lord Himself.
Ilion T. Jones is quite forthright in asserting that every preacher experiences, in his or her own way, a certain certainty of having been called. His categorical tone may seem to leave no room for the self-doubt that may, under the right circumstances, serve as a check on human pride. While this is not the necessary outcome of his argument, it may well by an unintended impression left on some readers.
Broadus, however, brings balance by stressing that “homiletical skills” cannot provide a replacement for “complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.” This, I think, leaves us free to doubt ourselves while trusting unfailingly in the God Who called us.