It is a sacred trust to stand in a pulpit to proclaim God’s Word. Only those who have a special encounter with God and feel the impulse of His spirit on their hearts enter such a high calling.
The productivity of some, however, indicates shallowness of preparation and a lack of commitment to their vocation. Often preaching is verbose, full of hackneyed phrases and superlatives with confusing circumlocution. Many sermons are devoid of precise and clearly defined thinking. Edmund Hodgson Yates, in his Recollections and Experiences, would refer to this kind of utterance as “mouthings and conventionalisms.”
Where are the outstanding pulpiteers who graced the Scottish Church of last century? Where are the expositors of the American pulpit who could demonstrate proficiency in exegesis, making the scriptures alive and relevant to contemporary needs? Where are the scholars of yesterday, who had incisive minds to challenge people to spiritual growth and maturity. If the regular churchgoer is to be led into a life of sanctification and service for the Lord and the ungodly are to be captured for Christ, the pulpit must be filled with preachers who have a message from God.
Persons of renown in any field of endeavor are readers. This is especially true if a preacher is to excel for the Lord and lead others to Him. While some pastors boom out cliches and stereotyped phrases, others are eloquent speakers displaying a surety obtained from hours of faithful study and reading. Like the preachers of old who illustrated their sermons from the poets, historians, scientists, politicians, philosophers, and others of notable reputation in literary circles, the modern pulpiteer’s mind should be stimulated by reading. Therefore his library needs to contain a wealth of challenging and inspiring literature.
To avoid mediocrity in the pulpit, pastors should set aside time each week for reading the authors of repute in disciplines other than theology. This provides breadth of scholarship and develops the Renaissance man, enabling the intellect to be invigorated.
Perhaps taking a graduate course each semester in a nearby university would be helpful. Check the bestsellers listed in Publishers Weekly or in most newspapers and select some books for review. This, and reading the local newspaper, will bring a contemporary emphasis to preaching.
Extension courses are available through many Christian colleges and seminaries. Some of these offer degree-granting courses that broaden an understanding of the Bible and give new insights into biblical truth. In this information-oriented age, when people are highly educated and more knowledgeable than in previous generations, preachers must present more than truisms. The lack of inquisitive and investigative study has created “light preaching,” with psychology as its basis. The antidote to this is Bible-centered preaching through study of the Scriptures.
How can ministers of the gospel present meaningful messages and thought-provoking truths? Can we ever again expect to hear sermons like those of the Scottish divines, John Wesley or Jonathan Edwards? What are the means to develop a pulpiteer of this caliber? A few suggestions may be helpful.
Since language is the means God has chosen to communicate His mind and thought, the preacher must acquire proficiency in its use. The Bible is the Book of books. A preacher must master it before he can expound it. A thorough understanding of the original languages will help a pastor apply the Word of God to produce righteousness in a congregation’s life.
A pastor should have some basic tools in his study, such as the Encyclopedia Americana, the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, and the Expositor’s Greek New Testament.
Also recommended are word studies by men like Wuest or Vincent; a number of translations of the Scriptures; some standard works on theology, church history, and missions; and commentaries. Books of illustrations and one of quotations — such as Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett — are beneficial.
Bibliographies are a source for helps in making selections for a library or for study. The American Association of Bible Colleges has compiled an excellent one that crosses denominational and theological lines. Others are available, including The Minister’s Library by Cyril J. Barber. He has, with Elmer L. Towns, written Successful Church Libraries, which gives simple cataloging rules and information for small libraries.
Periodical literature is essential for a pastor. He cannot expect to be aware of new trends and movements without having journals in his study. These naturally should include those of his denomination, but there are some of worth that are interdenominational in scope. Reading such periodicals will prevent one from having a parochial mentality or being rigidly biased.
Furthermore, by reading book reviews in these publications a person can get a synopsis of their content and become well informed on existing literature. Both secular and sacred periodicals should be a part of one’s library and routine reading.
Besides having basic reference tools in his study, a pastor should read other inspirational books. These include autobiographies of great pastors and missionaries, devotional literature, volumes on motivation and time management, others related to pastoral techniques and homiletics, and occasionally a volume on some unrelated subject for recreational purposes.
With the media explosion today, a pastor may wish to have equipment to review cassettes, videotapes, or films. A church sanctuary can be set up permanently for sound and be equipped for media presentations. Duplicators, recorders, overheads, and opaque projectors are other items available. By recording worship services, the church can minister to shut-ins, or the pastor can review sermons of previous weeks for the purpose of bettering his delivery.
Great messengers of God throughout history devoted their days to the essential of study and prayer (Acts 6:4). If we are to have giants for the Lord in the pulpits of our world, pastors must follow the admonition of Paul to Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God.”

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