The wife of a conference administrator startled him the other day when she said: "You know, you are not preaching as well as you used to. There is something wrong: your sermons lack the warmth and the spirit and the power they used to have. Perhaps you are not taking the time for prayer and study you used to take."
Yes, it was true. He was already conscious of this himself. It is extremely difficult to work with business, deal with problems, sit with committees, operate a complex organization for long hours during the day, and then abruptly turn one's mind into the spiritual theme of a sermon message. He often found himself weary on Friday evening when he tried to review the Sabbath school lesson, or glance at some sermon notes for the next day.
There is such a thing as allowing oneself to be too occupied with the burdens of the work. A specific time must be allotted in every man's program for this most important portion of his ministry—sermon preparation, which is a combination of much prayer and diligent study. Even though the sermon has been given before, a man must revise, adapt, study, rehearse. One cannot do God's work without God's Spirit, but the Holy Spirit must have something with which to work.
In some ways the administrators, departmental secretaries, and treasurers, who often minister the Sacred Word, have an advantage over the pastors and evangelists who must prepare several new sermons a week. They visit from place to place and do not need quite so many sermons in their repertoire. Why should they not then, with the Spirit's direction, present a spiritual masterpiece—prepared as carefully and as fully as though they were giving it for a baccalaureate or a commencement address. Probe the Word of God, memorize the texts, read voluminously on the subject, chose live illustrations, and make every sentence rich with truth.
The wise man says: "The preacher sought to find out acceptable words" (Eccl. 12:10). To be effective, then, he must turn the ears of his congregation into eyes that see living pictures. Words are the colors that paint the story of the plan of redemption and the hope of salvation.
One thing is obvious—the more one preaches the more adept is his skill and ability. Perhaps we have had this experience in a revival or evangelistic series. The first two or three sermons come with some difficulty; then when the tongue becomes more freed and thoughts flow more abundantly our preaching becomes a living joy in our own souls as it flows out to others. One of the basic laws of life is that talents must be employed or else they disappear. Any gift of God too long ignored fades away. "Woe is me, if I preach not the gospel!"
There burns within the heart of all of us a desire to be stronger, more efficient workers with better personal public relationships. We strive to develop a more successful leadership in our churches and schools. We covet a richer conception of our great objective and are constantly reaching out for improved methods and better organization. Yet, above all this, we hunger and pray to be so possessed by the Holy Spirit that we become more powerful soul winners in our personal ministry. We want every sermon we preach to be dictated by the Spirit of God so that men and women, boys and girls, will be drawn heavenward and know the presence of the Saviour. We want message sermons that make and keep people Seventh-day Adventists. Sermons that convert, encourage, comfort, lead to decisions for a higher and holier life, and inspire more faithful service.
Surely as we comprehend even a little of the holiness of the work to which we are called, we will wish to say with the messenger of the Lord: "I never realized more than I do today the exalted character of the work, its sacredness and holiness, and the importance of our being fitted for it.
I see the need in myself. I must have a new fitting up, a holy unction, or I cannot go any further to instruct others. I must know that I am walking with God.
I must know that I understand the mystery of godliness. I must know that the grace of God is in my own heart, that my own life is in accordance with His will, that I am walking in His footsteps. Then my words will be true and my actions right." —Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 618.
In volume 9, page 151, we read these words of encouragement. "Christ will be your efficiency. He has appointed you as rulers over His household, to give meat in due season. . . He desires to perfect His household through the perfection of His ministers."
This is what we want. This is the paramount secret of more effective evangelistic preaching.
The following principles must be incorporated in every sermon to make them a Christ-centered, moving, converting influence:
1. The love of Christ. "In order to break down the barriers of prejudice and impenitence, the love of Christ must have a part in every discourse."—Evangelism, p. 189.
2. The cross. "I present before you . . . the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers."—Gospel Workers, p. 315. "No discourse should ever be preached without presenting Christ and Him crucified as the foundation of the gospel."—Evangelisnz, p. 186.
3. Salvation. "Let the science of salvation be the burden of every sermon."Ibid., p. 185.
4. Conversion. "There should not a sermon be given unless a portion of that discourse is to especially make plain the way that sinners may come to Christ and be saved."—Ibid., p. 188.
5. The second coming of Christ. "All the discourses that we give are plainly to reveal that we are waiting, working, and praying for the coming of the Son of God. . . . This hope is to be bound up with all our words and works."—Ibid., p. 220.
6. Practical godliness. "Ministers should not preach sermon after sermon on doctrinal subjects alone. Practical godliness should find a place in every discourse."—ELLEN G. WHITE in Review and Herald, April 23, 1908.
7. A corner for the children. "At every suitable opportunity let the story of Jesus' love be repeated to the children. In every sermon let a little corner be left for their benefit."—Gospel Workers, p. 208.
8. An appeal. "In every discourse fervent appeals should be made to the people to forsake their sins and turn to Christ."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 396. "At the close of every meeting, decisions should be called for."—Ibid., vol. 6, p. 65.
Thus we have the blueprint for effective evangelistic preaching.
If you had been with a certain conference president on a Sabbath not long ago, you would have had your soul lifted heavenward by his spiritual evangelistic message, your love for Jesus would have increased, your confidence in His message strengthened, your consecration deepened. You would have made a decision on that Sabbath morning to be a better person.
This president made specific appeals all through his sermon. Then he invited those in the congregation who had not done so to unite with the church. Four people joined the baptismal class that Sabbath. I understand that in the past five years 368 persons have united with the church as a result of his evangelistic preaching in regular church services and his willingness to seek decisions for the Master.
Philip was not the city, conference, or national evangelist. He was a deacon, a businessman for the church. He had, however, a burning passion for souls. He placed what gifts he had in the hands of God. The Master took an ordinary man and imbued him with power to preach the Word. He became "Philip, the evangelist." This is the most coveted title a man may receive of God, and "Well done, thou good and faithful servant," the most coveted declaration.
A. C. F.