When I was in Seminary, I took a course in homiletics. During that semester, each of the students was required to preach a sermon to the rest of the class. When it was my turn, I was ready! My points were clearly defined, and I thought I gave good expression to the meaning of the biblical text from which I had developed the sermon. I had given careful attention to the choosing of illustrations that would clarify what I was trying to say. Even my humor was timed as it should have been to relieve any distracting tension that might have built up in my listeners. In preaching that sermon, I though I gave it my best.
Later, when I received a written evaluation from my professor, I was stunned by what he had written across the top of the report sheet. In bold, red letter under the grade were the words, “Tony. You can’t convince people that you are wonderful and that Jesus is wonderful in the same sermon.” I have never forgotten those words. Before I prepare a talk, I ask myself how Jesus can be lifted up through what I say.
Little more than a century ago, the British Isles were blessed with one of the best communicators of all the time, the great Charles Spurgeon. So extensive was Spurgeon’s fame that those who lived in and around London made hearing him preach a “must-do” event. Even Herbert Spencer, the prominent sociologist and somewhat infamous agnostic, took time one evening to go and hear Spurgeon preach at his famous Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle. Following the sermon, Spencer’s assistant asked him, “Well? What did you think of him?”
As though coming out of a hypnotic trance, Spencer responded, “About whom?”
“About the preacher—Charles Spurgeon, ” his assistant replied.
Still awed by the way in which Spurgeon had connected with him, Spencer answered, “Oh, Spurgeon! I haven’t been thinking about him. I’ve been occupied thinking about Spurgeon’s Jesus!”
Oh, that all preachers could connect with their congregations like that, so that when the sermons end, people would say, “I can’t tell you much about the preacher. I was too preoccupied with thinking about Jesus.”
Then there is the story of a man who, after hearing one of the other great Christian orators of the day, was overheard saying to a friend, “What a preacher! What a preacher!” The following week, this same man, having heard Charles Spurgeon, was overheard to say “What a Saviour! What a Saviour!”
In my own case, it is not until I have spent time in prayer asking God to help me point people to Jesus instead of myself that I focus on how I will actually deliver my message. Doing what makes you Christ centered in your speaking does not render unnecessary the use of all the best delivery techniques that Jesus and other master communicators have used to stir pathos in the hearts and minds of listeners. That’s why it is important for you to intentionally consider and also practice key aspects of delivering a talk. The best material can get lost in bad delivery.
This blog post is an excerpt from Connecting Like Jesus by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling: Jossey-Bass Press, 2010.