Dying to Preach
The Secret to Great Preaching
The smell of German coffee is strong. It is, at the moment, the sustaining force for my jet-lagged corpus. My soul, on the other hand, is sustained for a completely different reason.
In a dorm room in a university in Oradea, Romania, as I sit with twenty college students thinking about world religions and doing evangelism, my responsibility is to teach preaching. The work is no work. These young people are serious and passionate for God. Their fathers paid very high prices to believe: torture, imprisonment, and being ostracized as radicals in a dissenting faith. To watch them process their faith is thrilling. One generation dies in the hope of the Gospel. The next watches communism fall and the Gospel produce a great harvest. In the next generation after, none know the iron curtain or the oppression of oligarchy, and many are trained for the Gospel ministry. The progress of the Gospel in this place is enough to sustain any soul.
In a way, this is an oddity: an American Evangelical, a glutton of information, a Christian as consumer, one who has to fight understanding his faith as a commodity, teaching on how to preach a message of suffering to students whose birthdays synchronize with the fall of a communist regime. Since they are without access to theological resources, my presence is intended to provide some encouragement to their thinking and praxis. However, I feel as if they are fine. They are not perfect, but they have forged their faith in the cruciform commitment of persecution. They are essentially preachers, insomuch as preaching is the fragrance that wafts from something that is broken. The word is received when the smell of suffering is strong. In their brokenness, they are on the trajectory to being able to proclaim one who was broken so that we might live.
This is essentially how the apostle Paul understands ministry. A survey of 1 and 2 Corinthians reveals that Paul views ministry as a death that others might live. Perhaps this is best summarized in 2 Corinthians 4:12, when Paul writes, "This ministry works death in us, but life in you." The application to preaching is clear.
Preaching is the act by which we die to our rights to be loved, to be liked, to be thought of as witty, trendy or intellectual. In this death the word of God lives. There must be a cross in the pulpit, before there can be a cross from the pulpit.
So this is why I enjoy my time with my Eastern European friends. They have the secret to great preaching; they just need the skills. Normally my lot is to be surrounded by those with the skills but without the secret. This is not to bemoan the inner circle of my friends; it is just to acknowledge that evangelicals in the country that I love are often disadvantaged by their sense of greatness. We then become the liability to the Gospel by our own proficiency in proclaiming it.
Steven W. Smith is a preacher and author who is attempting to die in the pulpit and call a generation to do the same. He is the Dean of the College, and Professor of Communication, at the College at Southwestern. Follow him on Twitter.