“Sermon delivery does not matter. The content of the sermon is what matters,” the student stridently asserted. As his preaching professor, I said, “The delivered sermon is the content.” I pressed a bit further, asking him, “What do you think constitutes the content of the sermon?” He did not have much of an answer but it was clear that in his mind his sermon notes were the content of the sermon.
But a sermon is not what you write. A sermon is what you say. Nothing about a sermon is atheological, including the verbal delivery of the sermon. What is said in the sermon cannot be severed from how it is said. Sadly, in evangelical preaching circles, talking about sermon delivery of the content is often treated as an afterthought in homiletics. There is an almost gnostic-like separation of the sermonic ideas written on paper, viewed as spiritual, and sermon delivery, which is treated as a discomfiting less relevant addendum.
The idea that uninspiring sermon delivery could be taken as a virtue is a bizarre proposition. How could indifference to the delivery of a sermon be proof that you take the task of preaching seriously? I once heard a group of self-styled sophisticated evangelical types almost mocking John Piper because of his passionate and energetic delivery. I asked, “Do you think it is fake passion? An over-dramatized act or genuine?” Their answer was that it is genuine but still dangerous. I told them to sign me up for that kind of dangerous passion.
Such an attitude is a far cry from Martin Luther who declared,
The church is not a pen house, but a mouth house. For since the advent of Christ the gospel, which used to be hidden in the Scriptures, has become an oral preaching. And thus it is the manner of the New Testament and of the gospel that it must be preached and performed by word of mouth and a living voice. Christ himself has not written anything, nor has he ordered anything to be written, but rather to be preached by word of mouth.” (Wood, Captive to the Word, 90).
Some misappropriate Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:1 to sustain this delivery-does-not-matter view of preaching, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” But they miss the point entirely. It is the delivered message of Christ crucified that his opponents objected to and would have had him neglect.
No matter how well and persuasive Paul proclaimed biblical truth, they did not want to hear about a crucified Messiah. The only way, according to them, Paul could have lofty speech or wisdom was to abandon the proclamation of the cross.
According to Paul’s opponents, “the word of the cross is folly” (1 Cor 1:18). Unlike the wisdom teachers and the rhetoricians who paraded their cleverness, Paul did not speak of himself but “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Human wisdom puts self on display but the wisdom of God puts Jesus Christ on display. As Paul writes, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5).
In the book of Acts, Paul heals a lame man and the crowds cry out “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” (Acts 14:11). Then starting with Paul they attempt to identify the gods who had come. Paul, the primary preacher they decided must be Hermes, the Greek god of oratory, and inventor of speech. I am pretty sure this description was not because he was a listless preacher who did care much about how he said what he said.
When our manner of delivery conforms to the message of the biblical text, it becomes obvious that the text we are preaching has pierced our own heart. Our sermon delivery acts as a window to our preaching soul, which ultimately weights the power of our words.
When your manner of delivery and message of biblical truth meet in the preaching moment and all of your senses are surrendered for the sake of delivering biblical truth to the gathered body, that’s a sermon. Above all else in delivery, allow your cruciform passion and genuine enthusiasm for what you believe show in order to make much of the cross.
Preaching is a God-given, Word-based, Christ-centered, Spirit-anointed, dynamic and living transaction between the preacher and the congregation. It serves as an eschatological act that points to the consummation of the Kingdom of Christ when every tribe, tongue, and nation will gather and hear the voice of the chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:2-4, Rev 7:17, Rev 22:4).
Until then, preach. Spend and be spent, for this highest of all tasks in a fallen world. Toil, strain, and sweat to say what is biblically true, and surrender every single molecule to say it as clearly, passionately, and powerfully as possible.