I took my first preaching class thirteen years ago: Sermon Preparation and Delivery with Dr. Michael Boys. Hundreds of sermons, lectures, and lessons later, the two pillars he established still stand tallest in my mind.
Pastor Boys taught us that accuracy and clarity are the most essential elements of biblical preaching. Accuracy is like air, clarity like water. Without air, people die immediately. Without water, they die eventually. Either way, they die.
So it is with God’s people. His Word is our manna (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4), his truth our feast (Ps 1:2), and his will our food (John 4:34). We die without hearing the truth proclaimed with accuracy and clarity. Without accuracy, we die immediately. Without clarity, we die eventually. Either way, we die (Prov 29:18).
Preachers rightly have many concerns, and the kaleidoscope of categories can be overwhelming. Right interpretation, the sine qua non of biblical preaching, roots the tree: background and context, grammar and syntax, exegesis and theology. Without cutting the Word straight (2 Tim 2:15), accuracy is impossible and clarity irrelevant.
Homiletical elements then form the trunk and branches: structure and outline, introduction and conclusion, explanation and application. The preacher’s concerns, though, continue branching and leafing into matters of semantics and segues, stories and illustrations, timing and transitions. Miniscule veins and delicate buds appear in the soft artistries and developed instincts of pace, tone, and gestures, along with soul-touching images and mind-capturing metaphors.
Then there are the atmospheric concerns surrounding the preaching event: liturgy, song, seating, lighting, amplification, and a host of liturgical and spatial dynamics that affect the sermon. And we’re not even addressing those age-old homiletical questions every developing preacher must wrestle with. Preaching notes manuscripted or outlined? Delivery scripted or extemporaneous? Personality filtered or amplified? The thoughtful preacher, whether aspiring or established, can find himself exhausted navigating the labyrinth of expository concerns week after week.
But strip it down, boil it down, and apply the paint thinner of the final judgment to the glossy artifacts of oratory, and you’ll find (once again) these two essential and foundational elements of biblical preaching: accuracy and clarity. Speak the truth, and speak it clearly.
Of course, this requires rigorous interpretation and logical arrangement and enlightening illustrations and followable transitions. It requires laborious preparation and skillful execution. But healthy concerns over homiletical effectiveness should never bustle around the minister’s mind like bridesmaids taking over the wedding. Rather, these beautifying agents should be carefully prepared and positioned as handmaidens highlighting truth and clarity.
Yes, build effective scaffolding and structure—to uphold the truth. Yes, labor over your illustrations—for the sake of clarity. Yes, weave stories into your sermons—to capture the imagination with clearly proclaimed truth. Go ahead: Craft pithy proverbs and meaty maxims. Gesture with purpose and intonate with precision. Make your introduction compelling and your conclusion inescapable. Reach deep into the well of stories and illustrations, images and metaphors, proverbs and parables so you can reach deep into the psyche of your earthen, story-bound listeners. Do what you can, within biblical propriety, to capture our spastic attention spans.
But never forget that there’s a famine in the land, that people are starving, and that what emaciated pilgrims need most is not the Skittles of your best story but the true meat of God’s nourishing Word, sliced up with digestible clarity. Pressed in on every side, they need not the stained glass window of ornamented preaching but an unclouded view of divine truth.
Truth and clarity might not entertain, but the preacher’s responsibility is not to go viral on earth but to store up treasure in heaven. Readying souls to race well in this world and reach the next is the preacher’s calling and the sermon’s purpose. After all, there is more joy in heaven over one listener who repents than a hundred retweets that know no repentance.
So never let your capacity to be clever outrun your calling to be clear. Cleverness is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. When cleverness serves clarity, use it. But when cleverness stifles clarity, crucify it. The preacher’s job is not to paint the nail of truth but to drive it. So make your main goal and your heaviest burden this: to tell the truth, as clearly as you can.
This is biblical preaching: nails of truth, sharpened with clarity, driven by the Shepherd-builder of the church through a Spirit-anointed preacher. So until the new creation dawns and the church of Jesus Christ is saved to sin no more, this is the preacher’s calling, and these are his watchwords: true and clear.
David “Gunner” Gundersen (@GunnerGundersen) serves as Director of Student Life and teaches biblical counseling and theology courses at Boyce College.