For more than a year, a book with a remarkable title — All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum — has been at or near the top of national bestseller lists.
What’s more remarkable is that such success wasn’t purchased with liberal doses of sex, violence, or “fool-proof” schemes for getting rich with no down payment. Fulghum has written a book which expounds on a series of truths we learned in childhood but which are still applicable in adulthood — things like sharing, playing fair, and so on.
That got me to thinking. Many of the principles that direct our ministries were learned during seminary years — either in classrooms or those first student pastorates. (You folks who bypassed seminary had to learn things the tough way — in deacon’s/church board meetings.)
All we really need to know we learned in seminary, didn’t we? Things like …
– The best sermons are rarely written late on Saturday night.
The casual observer might doubt this truth, recognizing that so much sermon preparation actually takes place at this hour. Quantity does not imply quality, however; how many of us would want to have a prospective congregation come to evaluate us, only to hear a “Saturday Night Special”?
– Our best preaching doesn’t originate in books with “Simple” or “Easy” in the title.
If only great preaching could be freeze dried, shipped to your local bookstore, popped in the microwave and served fresh to our congregations on Sunday morning!
Truth is, good preaching is hard work. Someone else’s sermons can be helpful for an idea, an illustration, or inspiration, but they don’t fit well compared with the tailor-made variety crafted in our own studies.
– The best illustrations date from our own century.
In seminary, it was tempting to stock up on those books that provided three million illustrations in a single volume. Of course, what we often discovered was that most of them dated from a time when “thee” and “thou” were considered normal conversation.
There are probably a few preachers who effectively use illustrations drawn from 16th-century literature — but they’re preaching to congregations composed of literature professors. Charles Spurgeon’s illustrations were superb when preached to congregations in Victorian London, but many of them will fall flat when shared with a suburban American congregation where anything before World War II is “ancient history.”
– All congregations aren’t the same, so sermons shouldn’t be either.
It would simplify preaching if all congregations were identical — the same mix of ages, cultures, professions, life needs, spiritual maturity. Of course, then they wouldn’t need us — just a generic preacher beamed in by satellite every Sunday. (Why does that idea sound familiar?)
My seminary congregation consisted of mostly older people, mostly farmers, mostly long-time church members. My most recent congregation included lots of young and middle-aged folks, mostly urban, many recent Christians. The sermons that worked for the former wouldn’t always work for the latter. (For instance, those cow and pig jokes just didn’t get anywhere.)
Since congregations are each different, preaching ministries must also vary if we’re going to be effective communicators. I believe a seminary professor told me that once.
– If I don’t understand what I’m trying to say, they won’t either.
More than once I’ve stopped in the midst of sermon preparation, gone back to review what I’d already written, and discovered I had no idea what I’d just said. Good phrases, properly spiritual, even a great joke — it just didn’t say anything.
Requiring sermons to make sense does cut down on the available material — but your congregation will thank you for it.
Thinking back, I learned quite a bit in seminary. Unfortunately, I am often like the farmer who was offered a book on better farming methods.
“Son, I don’t need a book like that,” he responded. “I already know more about farming than I’m doing now.”

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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