Preaching with power

The role of clarity and simplicity in preaching

Morris Chalfant is chaplain of Heritage Village, Kankakee, Illinois.

It was no doubt an accident, but it did carry a message. In printing the preacher's sermon, the local newspaper carried an interesting mistake in the introductory verse: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not clarity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1).

Inadvertently placing an "I" in the place of the "h" in the word "charity" and thus making the word "clarity," suggested to my mind a deeper truth: without clarity, the message we seek to convey in our preaching may well cause our proclamation to come across as a sounding brass or clanging cymbal.

Clarity calls for simplicity, but simplicity in preaching does not mean shallow or superficial preaching. What is needed is clarity of thought and expression—the ability to tell others what one has seen and felt until they see and feel it for themselves.

Fog is good for lima beans; they prosper in its clammy dampness. But fog has little to offer people. Scientific experiments have indicated that a bank of fog three feet thick, six feet high, and one hundred feet long contains less than one seventh of a glassful of water! One cannot quench thirst with fog. There is only one thing to do with fog, and that is to keep out of it. There was no fog about the gospel when Christ and Paul presented it. A sermon should help people live in a difficult and complicated world.

Augustine once said, "A wooden key is not so beautiful as a golden one, but if it can open the door when the golden one cannot, it is far more useful." Luther added, "No one can be a good preach er to the people who is not willing to preach in a manner that seems childish and coarse to some." John Wesley wrote all his sermons in full, and read them to the maid. All the words she couldn't understand, he eliminated.

An 11 -year-old girl, after hearing a new minister for the first time, said, "Daddy, that preacher is not so smart. I understood every word he said." That preacher was not only brilliant but also wise, for he had followed the example of Jesus. He preached in a language that all could understand. He preached with power.

In all our preaching, let us be simple, plain, much to the point, and deeply in earnest. Some preachers have the instinct of aviators—they announce a text, taxi for a short distance, then take off from the earth and disappear in the cloud. After that only the din of exploding gas is heard, signifying that they are flying high, very high above the heads of their hearers. It could be said of them in the language of an ancient event, "While their hearers beheld, they were taken up; and a cloud received them out of their sight." The miracle of the Ascension is still manifested in some of our pulpits. A sermon, rightly, is not a meteor but a sun. Its true test is, can it make something grow?

The Lord did not drop golden tablets which could not be deciphered. He spoke and still speaks through the prophets, the apostles, and through His Son. If He has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation, He also expects us to preach to people, not over their heads. We must study for ourselves the concepts and motives which change lives. Then our task begins anew; we have got to study for the sake of others the ways of describing those ideas so that they can see them as clearly as we do. "He preaches over our heads" is no compliment.

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Morris Chalfant is chaplain of Heritage Village, Kankakee, Illinois.

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