Motyer on preaching

alec-motyerThis week I have been reading Alec Motyer’s excellent little book on preaching, “Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching”. An Irishman and an Episcopalian, Motyer has contributed to many aspects of evangelical life in the UK, and is a respected Old Testament scholar. This little gem of a book contains many valuable insights and will be a source of help to pastors and preachers. Here are a few of the passages that I found most insightful.

“What makes a sermon ‘bad’? The majority of (if not, to a degree, all) ‘bad’ sermons are ‘bad’ because they are muddled. ….muddle is something that can be sorted out. Some people have a natural capacity for setting a subject out, and there is never any doubt what they have said, or why they have moved on to the next aspect of their subject. And in the end it is all a clear, rounded whole. Their minds work in distinct ‘points’ with precise subdivisions. For most of us that sort of thing is a matter of hard work and detailed preparation. That is exactly my point. ‘Good’ preaching, in the sense of being plain and unmistakable in the pulpit, is something that can be achieved. Once we have seen it as a target to aim at, it becomes a target we can hit, a step in the right direction to being an acceptable preacher.”

“A sermon is like dressing a shop window. When we first lived in a remote village, the window of the village shop was just an extension of the stock room. Everything the shop had on offer was there! In fact, there was so much in the window that no one even bothered looking in it; there was so much to see that the passer-by saw nothing. Contrast window dressers who know their business! They put into the window what they are, at that moment, setting out to sell …. Sermons are equally selective. What are we intending to sell? We have a stockroom full of the most amazing collection of goods to offer – real bargains too! So what shall we put in the window this Sunday morning or evening, this Wednesday ‘mid-week sabbath’? Everything must lead to that central truth.”

“In Gethsemane Jesus trembled, prayed, and never trembled again all through the ordeal of our salvation. The disciples failed to pray, and after that never stopped trembling. To keep alert and pray is to follow our Saviour and become like Him.”

“Our position as ministers in the church gives us the right to preach, but it does not give us the right to be heard. I once attended a service at a church where the minister was not only known as a skilled preacher, but also was widely in demand as a lecturer on pastoral work, pastoral care and pastoral problems – subjects which he handle with notable ability and helpfulness. I came from that service with a sense of incase which I could not at that time define, but years later I had the chance to ask the minister in question how he found time, with his preaching and lecturing commitments all over the country, to engage in the pastoral care of his people. “Oh”, he said, “I do all my pastoral work in the pulpit.” Not in home visitation? Not in personal ministry to the sick and bereaved? Not in one-to-one counselling of the troubled? Only in the pulpit? My original unease suddenly had an explanation. I remembered my attendance at his church: he was preaching but no one was listening! It was the minister’s Sunday performance before we could all go home! His position gave him the right to preach; but Monday to Saturday he was not purchasing the right to be heard.”

“[The seven golden lampstands of Revelation 1:12] remarkably were not designed to shine the light of God’s truth into the darkness of the surrounding world – though doubtless they did that as a by-product of their golden radiance. No, their lamps were turned inward in order to reveal the presence and glory at their centre of ‘One like the Son of Man’. One way or another this expresses our intention and longing as preachers – that He should be at the centre, ever the Focus of all truth and fully illuminated for every eye, for ‘we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord’, that all may see ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’.