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In John Stott’s classic work Between Two Worlds, he writes:

In a world which seems either unwilling or unable to listen, how can we be persuaded to go on preaching, and learn to do so effectively? The essential secret is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions. In other words, theology is more important than methodology. (92)

This quote captures what I’m trying to do as a pastor and preaching professor, equipping younger ministers of the word.

Ordering the Passion

Many assume that preaching profs are either highly focused on technique and style, or that they aren’t capable of teaching a “real discipline” in the academy. Homiletics is often mocked. You might hear things like this: “You can’t teach a guy to preach.” “I never learned anything from my preaching professor.” “You can’t listen to him about hermeneutics, theology or pastoral leadership; he’s just a preaching professor.” When a preacher does/says something that’s rhetorically unusual in our chapel, you might hear, “Now, Dr. Merida may not like this, but this is what I’m about to do ….”

But I’m not preoccupied with technique and methodology. I don’t have a formulaic approach to preaching; I have a theological approach to preaching. I actually enjoy teaching preaching because so many fields converge there—hermeneutics, systematic theology, biblical theology, missiology, evangelism, pastoral theology, etc. My least favorite part of homiletics is technique, oratory and rhetoric.

It’s this theologically driven passion that’s led me to espouse expository preaching, which is word-driven, word-saturated preaching. Expository preaching is a theologically driven approach, not a pragmatic-driven approach.

A Matter of Convictions

Each semester in my preaching classes, my goal is not to teach technique; it’s to build, accent and intensify certain theological and spiritual convictions. This isn’t new. The discipline of homiletics is classically studied under the field of practical theology. My aim is to put forward particular convictions that will shape a student for the long haul. Their theology will determine their biography; my goal is to highlight certain theological convictions that will shape the rest of their ministry.

When I read other heroes like Lloyd-Jones, Piper, Spurgeon and others, it’s not technique that they talk about. It’s theology. Why is this? It’s because one’s theological convictions impact everything else. That is what will keep a person preaching when no one seems to be listening, and when the preacher himself wants to quit and get a job as a bullpen catcher.

What are some of these convictions? Well, there are many. I want students to develop an insatiable thirst for Holy Scripture. I want them to go to the pulpit because they love the Bible, not go to the Bible because they love the pulpit. I want them to embrace the Christ-centered nature of Scripture and show Jesus as the hero of the Bible—and the hero of every sermon they preach.

I want them to believe that God saves people as the gospel is preached. I want them to believe in the power of the Spirit and the necessity of dependent prayer in preaching. I want them to remember that if they don’t maintain personal holiness, then they won’t have a ministry—regardless of their giftedness and cleverness. I want them to long for people to say after every sermon, not “what a great sermon,” but “what a great Savior.”

The Key to Effective Preaching

Obviously, technique is not unimportant. We should work to communicate clearly. Our sermons should have an understandable flow and a dominant idea. We should work to communicate in such a way that our preaching is intelligible to outsiders as they join the Sunday assembly. We should exegete our community and make timely and heart-focused application. We should learn to craft good outlines and to prepare for the listener instead of the reader. We should receive feedback humbly and seek to improve our delivery skills. Preaching is both science and art, and we need good art—so we should care about how we say things.

But the key to effective preaching is not mastering certain techniques; it’s being mastered by certain convictions.

That’s why I’ll keep the emphasis here, and not on elements like alliteration, the number of points one has, hand motions, clothing or platform furniture. No one was ever saved by such things, and no one ever remained faithful to the task by focusing on them either.

Let’s preach Christ until we see Christ. Then we won’t need to preach anymore. On that day, we won’t regret having been faithful to the main thing.

Tony Merida serves as the Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Imago Dei Church, Raleigh, NC and as the Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Kimberly, with whom he has five children. Tony is the co-author of Orphanology, and the author of Faithful Preaching and Proclaiming Jesus. He travels and speaks all over the world at various events, especially pastor’s conferences, orphan care events, and youth & collegiate conferences.

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Talk about it...

Jerry Tanner

commented on Sep 16, 2014

Thanks for the reminder. Old adage: "pray till you're on fire, and people will come watch you burn." Passion, when added to sound Biblical Theology, makes for a memorable sermon.

Jonathan Mbuna

commented on Sep 16, 2014

I am a preacher and usually I like reading articles on this forum. This article to me is so profound, touching and practical. I have learnt a great lesson 'go to the pulpit because you love the Bible, not go to the Bible because you love the pulpit'

Robert Gabuna

commented on Sep 20, 2014

Jonathan, hi! My surname is Gabuna. If the spelling of your family name starts in letters "ga", we might be relatives, eh?

Stephen Belokur

commented on Sep 16, 2014

Excellent! PTL!!

Larry Steverson

commented on Sep 16, 2014

I loved the article. I appreciate especially the quote about being mastered by certain convictions. The top conviction that has kept me in the pulpit 40 years is the one that God has called me to be there, not so much that I love the Bible. I also think my preaching professors (but one maybe) would not score my preaching very highly on technique and methodology.

Scott Wiens

commented on Sep 17, 2014

Great article Tony. At our church we have a rotating pulpit primarily between myself (Teaching Pastor) and our Lead Team Pastor. We have typically take a book of the Bible and just preached through it. The response has been excellent but part of that is because we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, we lead genuine and sincere lives sold out to Jesus Christ, and we don't shy away from delivering hard truths in a loving way. Some don't like that but those that are willing to accept truth usually stay. Thanks again for the confirmation. It was a good thing to be reminded of. May God continue to bless your teaching and mentoring of men and women of God.

Sathya John

commented on Sep 20, 2014

The essential secret is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions..... - This is a very profound and factual statement. Techniques can be taught but convictions can only be caught by those who have a passion for HIM and HIS Word. - Dr.Sathya Gangatharan, Eternal Grace Church, Dubai

Robert Gabuna

commented on Sep 20, 2014

Dr Merida, one of my bosses when I was a young working student in Manila is Dr Merida. She is of Hispanic descent. At any rate, what I want say, is: I fully concur of your message - convictions. Christ is the substance and essence of the Message - the rest are forms and style. I would look forward to your next sharing of insights.

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