In the last year of my undergraduate Bible studies at Harding University, a New Testament Professor of mine, Dr. Paul Pollard, pointed me to a statement Jesus made to his disciples during his last evening with them before his death. Jesus said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (Jn 16.12, NIV).
My professor’s point was that just because something is true does not mean everyone is ready to hear it. Or just because something is true does not mean that now is the appropriate time to speak it.
It takes a bit of wisdom to know when to speak and when to keep silent. The wisdom in knowing so applies as much to preaching as it applies to anything. Of course, gaining this wisdom takes time and usually involves a few learning lessons from the school of hard knocks. At least it did for me. There have been a couple of times where I had to apologize for something I said, not because what I said was wrong but either because the way in which I spoke or because what I said was just the wrong time and place (in either case, causing unnecessary offense).
It is obvious that there is a great need for applied wisdom to the way we speak. As I write this, conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh has been losing all sorts of sponsorship for calling a woman he disagreed with a “slut” on open air. Preachers John Piper and Pat Robertson have drawn criticism for theologizing as to why deadly tornados ravished parts of Indiana and Kentucky last week (conclusions which I find to be left in wanting). Also, we are in the midst of an election year which, according to some people, has turned into the most ugliest negative campaigning in American history.
So we need wisdom and preaching is not exempt. That is why one value I want to uphold in my preaching is to preach wisely.
I don’t know how every preacher/pastor prepares but my preparation involves writing my sermons out as full manuscripts. Doing this does not automatically mean that I will preach strait from a manuscript (though I sometimes do). What it does for me is, among many things, that it allows me to read and think through what I am wanting to say so that I can consider my words and how they will be heard by the church I am preaching to.
This limits the chance for me to say something off the top of my head that I might later regret. And I don’t know about you but to me, the more one speaks off the top of their head the more likely they are to say something they will later regret.
What are your thoughts?
See also these previous posts: