Today Ray Ortlund posted this gem from John Stott:
“I have several times heard Dr. Billy Graham say, and justly, that the trouble with us ministers is that we tend to preach to one another. We little realize how unintelligible we often are. ‘How much of what is customary to the man in the pulpit . . . is gibberish to the man in the pew?’ I was told of a patient in the chapel of a mental hospital who, after listening for a time to the Chaplain, was heard to remark, ‘There but for the grace of God go I!’ The simplicity and directness of Dr. Graham’s own preaching are a model for us all. . . . Dr. Graham has taught us all to begin again at the beginning in our evangelism and speak by the power of the Holy Spirit of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.”
I also spent a little time this morning reading Richard Baxter’s classic work, The Reformed Pastor. I think what Baxter says here may provide a sound way for us not to fall into “preaching to one another”:
If we feed on unwholesome food, either errors or fruitless controversies, our hearers are like to fare the worst for it.
The reason why we can sometimes be “unintelligible” and speak “gibberish to the man in the pew” is because we can be tempted to spend a good amount of our time trying to figure out the answer to fruitless controversies.
There is a time and a place for considering controversies. Not every controversy is fruitless and unwholesome. But an inordinate amount of time spent on controversies will cause the preacher to answer questions that his people are not asking (and probably don’t need to ask).