Things I’ve learned In The Past Twenty Years Michael Duduit July 1, 2005 The process of assembling this 20th anniversary issue of Preaching has been an enjoyable yet challenging process. It’s been fun to dig back through many of the 120 past issues we’ve produced since 1985 – to read the old interviews, sermons, and articles. I’ve even read through some of my old Back Page Pulpit columns, which is an experience just as humbling as going back and reading some of your earliest sermons. (I’ve burned my beginning sermons, just to be sure there’s no danger of them doing any further damage.) Putting this issue together has been a bit like stumbling across an old scrapbook. As you flip through the pages, lots of memories tumble out that spark laughs, tears, and maybe a cringe or two. It’s also got me thinking about the past two decades of editing Preaching, and all the things I’ve learned. (The list of things I haven’t learned is too big for one column; that one would fill a collection of hefty volumes.) So please allow me the liberty of sharing some observations about things that 20 years in this editor’s chair have taught me: • The great preachers – past and present – didn’t get that way through a driving desire to be known as “great.” That adjective is attached to preachers with a compulsion to communicate God’s Word effectively. They have invested the time and energy to develop their craft. They have spent time in reading and study. (For example, I’ve yet to come across a great preacher who isn’t also a voracious reader; strong preachers just have a curiosity that makes them want to read and learn more.) Great preachers have never been obsessed with adhering to some artificial homiletical model created by others; their commitment to effective communication has led them to find the style that best suits the gifts God has given them. The great preachers aren’t those who seek greatness. For a great preacher, the goal is not the accolades of the crowds; it is the applause of nail-scarred hands. There are some who draw crowds today but whose names will be lost a generation from now. There are others who may be overlooked today, but whose work will continue to produce fruit many years after they are gone. God knows, and that’s enough. • Preaching is being affected by the reality that more and more people are attending a growing number of megachurches scattered across the suburbs of America. As a result, the 800-or-so senior pastors of those congregations are increasingly identified as the pastoral models of our era. In fact, a handful of those pastors and churches have become “virtual denominations” through their offerings of curriculum and conferences, worship resources, congregational tools and more. Ask a random group of pastors who today’s “top preachers” are, and at least eight of the first ten names listed are likely drawn from this group. Yet the vast majority of congregations in the U.S. still have less than 300 people in attendance each Sunday, and the methodologies so well suited to the suburban megachurch are often a poor fit for such congregations. The tragedy is that too many pastors and lay leaders look longingly at the megachurches and identify that as the definition of “success,” no matter how unrealistic it may be for their rural and urban churches. At the same time, there are some things every preacher can learn from gifted pastors like Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Ed Young (Jr. or Sr.) and many others. Just as Victorian pastors would have done well to study a model like Charles Spurgeon, so today’s pastors can gain great insights from studying the ministries and preaching of today’s most effective communicators. Please note I said study, not mimic. • The marketplace for pastoral resources is getting more and more crowded. For example, when we started the National Conference on Preaching in 1989, there were few significant training events for preachers. Today, pastors are inundated with invitations to conferences, seminars, and meetings. We still think NCP is one of the two or three most effective conferences for preachers held each year, but it can be a challenge for pastors to cut through the onslaught of promotional materials and find the events that will truly make an impact on their ministries. And the congestion isn’t limited to conferences. Although a couple of the major preaching publications (Proclaim, Pulpit Digest) have ceased publication in recent years, that doesn’t mean there is less competition for a pastor’s time and attention. New periodicals have emerged, and the big action is on the Internet. It’s hard to even count the number of web-based “sermon services” that have hit the web, all offering to make your job easier by providing pre-digested sermons for every Sunday. (As if God intended preaching to be anything less than an investment of blood, sweat and tears on the part of God’s messengers.) At Preaching, we want to give you helpful, quality tools with which to carry out your divinely-appointed task. But if we ever suggest that we are going to make your job easier by providing your sermons for you, you have my permission to slap me up side of the head. • On a related front, plagiarism seems to be a more significant issue than it was twenty years ago. There has always been plagiarism; the temptation to “borrow” from a book of published sermons has always been a reality of Saturday-night specials. But the advent of the Internet (and all those thousands of sermons in digital form) has made plagiarism an increasing temptation and problem. Every year, we read new reports of pastors who are fired by church leaders when it’s discovered they have been preaching the sermons of others without attribution. They expect you to be good; they also expect you to be you. • I’m increasingly convinced that creativity must be a major focus of preachers committed to reaching this culture with the gospel. (You may have already figured that out, based on the two major articles on creativity we’ve already published in 2005.) That doesn’t mean being “wild and crazy” and emphasizing shock value – if the emphasis is always on the “show,” then each successive week the show has to be bigger and better. But it does mean that we can’t fall back on the “same old thing” Sunday after Sunday and expect today’s congregations to have the same “brand loyalty” their grandparents had. We have to continue to think strategically about ways to overcome communication barriers and reach people with the truths of God’s Word. And what we preach must be God’s Word. Being creative doesn’t require preaching to be topical in nature. A creative God has given us His creative Word, which is sharper than any sword; do we dare stand before His people and preach that Word in a dry and dusty manner? I think the great challenge of the next decade may be to develop exciting new models of creative expository preaching that will serve the church in a changing culture. Too many church leaders have assumed that being creative requires massive infusions of technology in worship. Properly used, technology is a helpful communications tool, but it’s no panacea. It is important to think about the visual as we consider ways to share God’s truth. But at best, visual images are a support for the spoken word, not a replacement. We still have to have a Word from the Lord to share. • No matter what shape the culture takes, preaching will continue to play a vital role in the work and witness of God’s people. For two thousands years, God has used preachers to reach the lost, encourage the saints, and lead the church. That will continue to be the case until the Lord returns. Aren’t you glad He has called us to be part of it? ___________________________ Michael Duduit is Editor of Preaching magazine and President of American Ministry Resources. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at www.michaelduduit.com. Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.