Over the past two weeks, I have visited four schools to speak about preaching–actually five, if we include both the undergraduate university and the seminary in Cincinnati!
Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. They have a very large contingent of ministerial students. I spoke to their preaching class and also to their gathered campus ministry team. Campbellsville University in Campbellsville, Kentucky, is a Baptist school networked with multiple Baptist communions. I spoke to their undergraduate preaching class and spiritual disciplines class.
The Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati, Ohio, is the diocesan seminary of the archdioceses of Cincinnati. I spoke to their preaching class and ate two meals with the residential students. Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati is connected with the North American Christian Convention. I spoke to the university course on preaching and also their seminary course in preaching.
The issues in all 8 classrooms are the same: crafting and delivering clear, interesting presentations of the gospel. Skill levels vary, as does experience and educational attainment. But I found in all a passion for Jesus and the gospel and (with just a couple of individual exceptions) a deep interest in effect delivery.
To at least six of these gatherings I read from my recent book NINE MARKS OF A GOOD SERMON this selection (pages 89-90) of having passion when preaching the gospel.
“Not all sermons need a double dose of urgency, but every sermon needs to be full of conviction—not intensity, necessarily (and many confuse these two features of public speech)—but conviction: the feeling that the speaker is giving voice to what he really believes, to what is true and useful and important, to what will make a difference in life and death.
“Johnny Cash learned this lesson the first time he auditioned at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee (according to the 2005 movie Walk the Line). Cash (played by Joaquin Phoenix) aspired to be a gospel singer; so he and two fellow musicians prepared a bland version of a Jimmy Davis song popular in that day. When they completed their studio performance, Sam Phillips (played by Dallas Roberts) looked him in the eyes and said, “Is that all you got?”
“Johnny did not know what to say, but Phillips did; and what he said about singing is doubly true of preaching. Here is that scene, and I take the liberty to transpose Phillips’ references to singing into the language of preaching:
“Suppose you was hit by a truck, and you was lying out in that gutter dying, and you had time to preach one sermon. One sermon people would remember before you’re dirt. One sermon that would let God know what you felt about your time here on earth, one sermon that would sum you up. You’re telling me that’s the sermon you’d preach … ? Or would you preach something different, something real, something you felt? I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of sermon people want to hear; that’s the kind of sermon that truly saves people.
“It was, according to the movie, a turning point in the career of Johnny Cash, and it can be a turning point in your ministry. It is this element of passion, conviction, and deep soul that sets apart the good gospel preacher from the hundreds of men and women who stand in the pulpit and repeat just what everybody else is saying and has said for hundreds of years.”