For some years I have had a postcard with “John Wesley’s Advice on How to Preach” sitting on a shelf. I think one of my children gave it to me. I thought it would be fun to work through these twelve points and ponder them together.
Full disclosure, I have no dog in the fight when it comes to John Wesley. I don’t feel the need to defend him, nor critique him. So, let’s just engage with these points and see what we can learn in the process.
1. Always suit your subject to your audience. Well, some might want to argue that since “all Scripture is God-breathed and useful…” therefore this advice is not necessary. Just preach the Bible and it will be suitable, they might say. Yes, 2 Timothy 3:16 is certainly true, but it does not mean that every passage of Scripture is equally useful to every set of listeners. Some will take too much work to arrive at a point of usefulness for the listener. For example, if I am speaking to a group of children with English as a second language who have no church background, then I probably don’t want to preach from Leviticus. Seems obvious enough. Technically it may be useful Scripture, but for this group, it is probably not the best-suited text.
We could restate the advice as follows, “make sure you preach to the people who are in front of you.” Prayerfully ponder who they are so that your preaching will be suitable for them. Think about your passage choice, your vocabulary, your manner, your demeanour, your volume, your speed . . . everything. It would be unloving not to do so.
2. Do not preach more than twice a day during the week or three times on Sunday. This feels a bit specific to his context. It was a day of horse riding, handwriting and voice projection. We live in a different world. And yet, we are still human. Perhaps the point still stands. It will be tempting to do more and more because sometimes, there is more and more to be done. We would be wise to evaluate our ministry schedules, and our tendency to accept invitations so that we know our limits. Each of us is thoroughly capable of burning out or flaming out, so let’s think through our limits before we hit them.
Incidentally, I have been in settings where I crammed in as many teaching sessions as could fit and went way beyond these limits. Sometimes there may be a place for sacrificially serving like that, especially during a short and defined window (i.e. a conference or a visit to a place). Even if we do that, we need to know our own capacity to give, our ability to sleep under pressure, our mental state if our sleep is less than ideal, and our recovery plan for after the event or visit is over. And one thing is clear to me – we cannot sustain anywhere near as much as we can achieve during these brief windows of time. Typically there will have been weeks of work prior to the conference or visit. And normal life simply needs more margin – not only for preparation, and for rest, and other responsibilities, but also margin for the unannounced encroachments that always hit us when we think we have found the perfect schedule.
We will keep going next time!