Puny Preachers and Subpar Sermons are a Gift From the Lord

A sermon is not primarily an exercise in rhetorical skill. Instead, it is a proclamation of Christ’s finished work with implications for holy living.

I have had the privilege of sitting under some of the very finest Bible teachers, and yet, by dismissing one poor preacher, I missed a great opportunity for growth. Poor preachers are gifts from the Lord. That’s what I learned, ironically, from one of the greatest preachers who ever lived.

 

My family had recently moved to a new city and we were visiting a new church. The service started well, but moments after the preacher entered the pulpit, my heart stopped. This was going to be the worst sermon I had ever heard.

Quickly, the preacher checked off my pet peeves for poor preaching. Topical message? Check. Mechanically reading his manuscript the entire time? Check. PowerPoint slides? Check, check, and check. I soon dismissed the sermon and decided we would not attend this church ever again. I decided that his lack of theological sophistication, sermon craft, and public presentation disqualified him from being worthy of my attention.

But more troubling than his lack of rhetorical ability was my lack of spiritual maturity. I have had the privilege of sitting under some of the very finest Bible teachers, and yet, by dismissing this preacher, I missed a great opportunity for growth. Poor preachers are gifts from the Lord. That’s what I learned, ironically, from one of the greatest preachers who ever lived.

The Idol of Eloquence

In his famous work Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin argues that pastors are necessary kingdom workers. Calvin learned this from the apostle Paul, who taught that God is the one who gives the church shepherds and teachers (Eph 4:11). Calvin explains:

 “[The Lord] uses the ministry of men to declare openly his will to us by mouth, as a sort of delegated work, not by transferring to them his right and honor, but only that through their mouths he may do his own work — just as a workman uses a tool to do his work” (4.3.1).

Because of this delegated work, unimpressive preachers provide believers with a unique opportunity. Calvin writes:

“When a puny man risen from the dust speaks in God’s name, at this point we best evidence our piety and obedience toward God if we show ourselves teachable toward his minister, although he excels us in nothing” (4.3.1).

That’s right — Calvin argues that believers can demonstrate their love for Christ by paying attention to “puny” preachers.

Mature believers can see beauties that unbelievers and baby Christians miss. Before he was a believer, Augustine dismissed the Scriptures for their lack of eloquence. After his conversion, though, he testified, “Where I understand them, it seems to me that nothing could be wiser, nothing more eloquent than the sacred writers” (On Christian Doctrine, 4.6.9). The gospel of Christ must always rule over the desire for beautiful expression or else posturing and pretense is sure to follow (On Christian Doctrine, 4.28.61).

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