A lot of emphasis nowadays is placed on the importance of learning not new, but keeping up to date with old skills. In many jobs, it’s compulsory to spend a minimum amount of time each year keeping up to date with developments in your job. So much so that a separate industry providing continuing education in most jobs seems to have emerged. In the case of continuing education of professionals like doctors, lawyers and engineers, many in this separate industry are making a tidy living. Whether we resent the time (and money) spent on simply re-affirming skills we always knew we had and hope will always be with us, or whether we embrace the chance to refresh these skills and develop them to take into account changing circumstances, depends on the nature of the skills.
In the case of preaching, it’s difficult to know whether to resent or to embrace. If God has set you apart to preach surely you’ll always have that gift? Yes, but I don’t think that this precious gift should be taken for granted. That’s why I’ve found the course presently being run by the Scottish Baptist College entitled “The Art and Craft of Preaching” so helpful. Led by Stuart Blythe from the College, and meeting once every two weeks over several weeks, the course deals with a number of aspects of preaching, recommending sound reference material and encouraging lively discussion on preaching practice and technique. What I’ve found most interesting is looking at things in a different way, seeing how things I’ve been used to doing might be improved, and even being reassured that some (…though not many..!) of the things I’ve been doing might be correct.
Leaning on his own experiences in preaching (both from the pulpit and in the College), Stuart encourages us to talk openly and question frankly some of the do’s and the don’ts (and the maybe’s) of preaching. Some are very basic, such as checking you know how to go to a church you’ve never been to before, and how long should you preach for. Others are more profound, such as how to use Scripture effectively when preaching, and how you know when His Spirit is guiding your preaching. But all the guidance is based on Stuart’s relaxed but assured approach to sound and effective preaching in practice, and a challenge to constantly examine our approach to His call to speak to His people in this important way.
The Secretary at a church I preached at recently told me that one of the reasons he liked using preachers in the SBLPA so much was that we were all different and brought a different perspective to God’s Word. I’m not sure whether that was a subtle way of telling me that there was no way I could expect to be invited back, or whether it was a way of saying that God speaks through each of us in different ways and times at different places. Which of the two doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we always remain open to His guidance in our preaching. Surely, for some of us, one of the best ways of doing this is to be conscious that God could be telling us that our existing gifts could be used even more effectively. For me, the College course has been extremely helpful that way.
Maybe the course is just one way in which He is telling me that the gift of preaching is something to be treasured and to be appreciated: it is a gift from Him that, like continuing education, is not just for Christmas – but for life.