How can preachers secure the attention of their hearers?
What follows is based on the sage thoughts of that master-preacher, C.H. Spurgeon.
To be able to command attention is no trivial matter. Sin cannot be taken out of people, as Eve was taken out of Adam, while they are fast asleep. And yet some preachers seem not to care very much about it: some of them stare up at the ceiling, as if they sought the attention of the angels, while others have their heads buried in their notes, as if they were talking only to themselves.…
“You nearly found your preaching voice today.”
Those were the kindly, but slightly troubling, words of an elderly Christian gentleman after he heard me preach recently.
What he meant was that in my preaching I tend to be too tied to my notes, and to speak more to the head than to the heart. In other words, in his view I tend to lecture, rather than to preach.
A number of somewhat random thoughts occur to me as I try to reflect on this:-
- I am by training and profession a teacher (of nursing), and I wouldn’t dream of speaking from fully written-out notes in my day job.
My list of favourite Christian authors would look something like this (in roughly chronological order, not order of merit):-
- John Calvin – commentaries, Institutes
- Thomas Watson – Body of Divinity, Beatitudes, Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commmandments
- William Gurnall – Christian in Complete Armour
- Matthew Henry – Commentary
- C.H. Spurgeon – The Treasury of David, Lectures to my Students, An All-Round Ministry, Commenting and Commentaries (plus, of course, his many printed sermons)
- J.C. Ryle – Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Holiness, Knots Untied, Old Paths, Practical Religion, Christian Leaders of the 18th Century
It is interesting that the great Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon placed a chapter entitled, ‘An Defence of Calvinism’ near the beginning, and not near the end, of his autobiography. For the ‘doctrines of grace’ were not, for him, some distant climax of his faith, but, rather, its heart-beat and its foundation.
Listen to Spurgeon:-
That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory, but they are not.
In Lectures to My Students, C.H. Spurgeon identified earnestness as the most important quality in the Christian minister who would win souls.
In many instances ministerial success is traceable almost entirely to an intense zeal, a consuming passion for souls, and an eager enthusiasm in the cause of God.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) is widely regarded as the ‘Prince of Preachers’. Converted at the age of 15, he began preaching soon afterwards. In 1854, at the age of just 19, he was called to the pastorate at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, London. Throughout his life – and well beyond – a weekly sermon was published. These were bound up in annual volumes – The New Park Street Pulpit, and then (following a move to purpose-built premises) the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.…
This was the subject of one of C.H. Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students. All of Spurgeon’s utterances on preaching are wise, but we must remember that he was a genius, and other preachers should not try to imitate him, even though they can always learn from him. Accordingly, what follows comes with a ‘Government Health Warning’.
By ‘impromptu speech’ Spurgeon meant speech ‘without special preparation, without notes or immediate forethought.’
Here are some choice extracts:-
‘We would not recommend any man to attempt preaching in this style as a general rule.…