Unhealthy Division: Style & Substance

Perhaps people like me add to the kind of division I am thinking about by the labels used in our teaching of preaching, but still, we’d do well to think about this.  Do we too easily divide elements of preaching?

For example, content and delivery, or substance and style.  It’s a simple distinction, and it works for planning a class schedule.  But when you consider the complexity of the act of communication, perhaps the distinction can be unhelpful?  Certainly once we start dismissing style out of a resolute commitment to substance, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The term “style” is not the best for what I am writing about.  Even “delivery” can sound like a performance.  The reality, though, is that the message is transmitted through a preacher.  This includes many elements.  Not just vocal production, verbal clarity, non-verbal presentation, etc. (the classic elements of “delivery”), but also that which you might label “ethos” and “pathos.”

I recently tweaked my gradually-improving definition of preaching in one part by adding the two words “and life.”  In reference to the oral communication aspect of preaching, my current best attempt at a definition says that preaching involves “…effective communication through the preacher’s words (and life)…”

Perhaps we would do well to not dismiss matters of “style” and “delivery” as “mere performance.”  It is too easy to take Paul’s self-distancing from the manipulative skill of classical rhetoric (1Cor.2:1-5) and therefore dismiss all rhetoric and homiletics.  The problem with such a blanket response is that Paul clearly utilized both rhetorical and homiletical skill in his writing and preaching.  Instead of a quick dismissal of all style/delivery issues, or at the other extreme, an obsession with delivery that results in a performance mentality, perhaps we would consider more seriously that which results in the pulpit from the weight of who we are personally in our walk with Christ.

Maturity shows.  Passion shows.  Love shows.  Life shows.  Perhaps a preachers style and delivery are a lot more about the preachers inner life and spirituality than our categories tend to recognize?

One thought on “Unhealthy Division: Style & Substance

  1. I have read all of your writings and have been blessed.
    I happened across this site when i was looking to how to do a sermon. when i started to read all your writings , i felt i have a long way to go.
    What did i learn from this (paryer) (time) and to be in his word. i have church today its mens day for us and we have been asked to give the word.
    I have to say that i feel so relying on the lord, as we all need to.

    thank you


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