Retiring Professor Halford E. Laecock, who taught sermon preparation and delivery (Homiletics) at Yale Divinity School, gave, in April, a series of lectures on today's comfortable preaching. He condemned the "Rocking Horse Sermon" that "moves but does not go on, always charging but never advancing"; the "Confectioner's Sermon" that is "like a wedding cake, a great, airy structure with candy chateaux, gardens of angelica, true lovers' knots of sugar and hearts of purest whipped cream"; and the "Jericho Sermon"; "Some preachers... seem to have implicit faith that, if they march around the outside of a subject seven times, making a loud noise, the walls will fall down. They rarely do." He warned against the current view of religion as a "sort of glorified aspirin tablet," and said: "Some preachers have discovered a new verb which seems to have superseded the old ones (such as) agonize... follow... sacrifice. It is the lovely verb relax." He suggested that this type of preacher must think that the Biblical admonitions say: "If any man will come after me let him relax," and, "Go ye into all the world and keep down your blood pressure." Such sermons have no major issue. They consider religion merely a drug for the mentally distressed, or an aid for those in trouble, and certainly they show a lack of appreciation for the life-and-death importance of sound Christian truth.
YOUR PASTOR AND MINE
If he is young, he lacks experience, if his hair is gray, he is too old; if he has five or six children, he has too many; if he has none, he is setting a bad example.
If his wife sings in the choir, she is being forward; if she does not, she is not interested in her husband's work.
If he speaks from notes, he has canned sermons and is dry; if he is extemporaneous, he is too deep.
If he spends too much time in his study, he neglects his people; if he visits he is a gadabout.
If he is attentive to the poor, he is playing to the grandstand; if to the wealthy, he is trying to be an aristocrat.
If he suggests improvement for the church, he is a dictator; if he makes no suggestions, he is a figurehead.
If he uses too many illustrations, he neglects the Bible; if not enough, he is not clear.
If he condemns wrong, he is cranky; if he does not, he is a compromiser.
If he preaches an hour, he is windy; if less, he is lazy.
If he preaches the truth, he is offensive; if not, he is a hypocrite.
If he fails to please everybody, he is hurting the church!
If he does please everybody, he has no convictions.
If he preaches tithing, he is a money-grabber; if he does not, he is failing to develop his people.
If he receives a large salary, he is mercenary; if a small salary, it proves he is not worth much.
If he preaches all the time, the people get tired of hearing the man; if he invites guest preachers, he is shirking his responsibility.
Yes! They say the preacher has an easy time.
TO YOUNG MINISTERS
Pray every night, and shave every morning.
Keep your conscience clean, also your linen.
Let your light shine, and shine your shoes.
Press your advantages, your opportunities, and your trousers.
Brush the cobwebs from your brain, and the dandruff from your collar.
Take liberties with grammar, if you will, but not with the women.
Be filled with the Spirit, not with spirits.
Take chances when fighting for principle, but not in games of chance.
The polite liar easily becomes a plain liar.
Be poor in spirit, but not in vocabulary.
Don't mix your metaphors, but nevertheless, be a good mixer.
You can't put fire in your sermons unless there is a fire in your heart.
Two things cannot be imitated: God's sunset and man's sincerity.
It is better to establish a good precedent than to follow a bad one.
It is better to lose a good fight than to win a bad one.
Be more kindly to a shabby coat than to a silk hat.
Call in the homes of men if you would have men call in the House of God.
Never allow temporal trivialities to displace eternal verities.
Ritual is inspiring if kept alive; extempore prayer is depressing, if made up largely of outworn stock phrases.
People would rather listen to lively heresy than dull platitudes.
The approval of God is more to be desired than the patronage of a rich, unscrupulous pew-holder.
Always be content with what you have, but never with what you care.
When some churches want a new minister they want one with:
and when they get that bird, they want him to live on the food of a canary.
Question: What would you suggest toward getting my little flock to grow?
Answer: Try more fertilizer and less fumigating.
Question: I want to be a preacher. Just what are some of the characteristics I will need to develop?
Answer: Any Christian worker from the custodian to the platform must be a contortionist; he must keep his back to the wall, his ear to the ground, his nose to the grindstone, his head level, his upper lip stiff, and his feet flat on the ground.
Question: I have been in the Lord's work for twenty years and can't for the life of me understand what makes others succeed and my ministry a flop.
Answer: What you need is:
The curiosity of a cat.
The tenacity of a bulldog.
The determination of a cab driver.
The diplomacy of a wayward husband.
The detective mind of Sherlock Holmes.
The persuasiveness of a door to door peddler.
The enthusiasm of a radio announcer.
The self-assurance of a high school graduate.
But I have been in this pulpit more than 30 years, speaking day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year. How shall we find something fresh to say? I told our seminary students one day of an advertisement I had seen in an American magazine some years ago, which occupied a full page in a popular magazine, costing perhaps thousands of dollars. In the center of this there was a reproduction of the container in which a certain product was sold—I forget whether it was an advertisement for shaving-soap or toilet powder. The name of the product was on the container, with the manufacturer's name beneath. A finger pointed to an alteration which had been made to the box, and under it were these words: "We could not improve the powder, so we improved the box."
That is the minister's task. We cannot improve the powder—it must always be the Gospel of the grace of God. Our special business is to make new boxes, new clothes for the truth. Would it not be well for some preachers to recognize that old-fashioned preaching is now the newest thing in the world?