I am not too old, so distant memory for me is only 15-25 years. But as I think back on sermons that I can still remember from back then, what are some of the elements that seem to have made them memorable? (And what can I learn from that as I preach today?)
1. Vivid imagery – I still remember Wee Hian Chua’s vivid descriptions of New Zealand shepherds on their motorbikes as he contrasted that with the shepherd God of Isaiah 40. Vivid imagery makes an immediate and a lasting impression.
2. Unique Occasion – I remember messages I heard when I first left home and headed off to the mission field to serve with OM. This weekend I have been speaking at that same conference, and for these people, this is their memorable conference.
3. Pointed Relevance – I remember that sense of the passage being relevant to me as I listened to the Argentine preacher in Minehead. He spoke not as a historical lecturer, but as if God were speaking through His Word with relevance to me now.
4. Divine Touch – I remember heading outside to prayerfully ponder the cross after John Lennox spoke on the subject almost 20 years ago. The message was good and clear, but the mark seemed to be made by God’s Spirit putting a finger on something in my heart and life.
5. Contagious Passion – I remember all sorts of details about George Verwer preaching in that church in Bristol (including bizarre details like his enthusiasm that the church book stall sold stamps – not exactly the main idea, but contagious passion nonetheless!)
6. Stunning Clarity – I remember how the passage just became so obvious and lucid when that preacher humbly presented it that Saturday afternoon in my home church. Clarity is a weekly goal, but sometimes there is an astonishing clarity brought to a text.
I am sure I could list more items, and you could too. Here’s a point to note, though. Numbers 1, 3, 5 and 6 are somewhat in the hands of the preacher. We can, and should, work on these and many more aspects of effective preaching. But numbers 2 and 4 at least seem to be out of reach. That is, we can pray, we must pray, but we cannot manufacture occasion or divine touch. As ever, a reminder that in our pursuit of being good stewards of preaching ministry, we are always absolutely dependent on God to take up and use what we offer. It isn’t just up to you and me at all.