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Don’t ‘bore people’ with Bible, preaching professor admonishes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–“It’s a sin to bore people with the Bible,” declared Haddon Robinson. “Boredom Sunday after Sunday is a destroyer of life and hope.”

Robinson, professor of homiletics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Mass., delivered the 1997 Hester Lectures on Preaching Feb. 26-27 at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo.

Robinson told the seminary audience in his initial message he has come closer to being “bored out of the Christian faith than being reasoned out of it.” He offered principles from 1 Timothy 4:12-16 instructing pastors to be godly examples and effective expositors.

Realizing Timothy felt “overmatched and undermanned,” Robinson said Paul conveyed the importance of establishing priorities. “You put first things first, second things second, some things last, and there are some things you ought not to have to do at all.”

Primary attention must be given by the preacher to the virtues of love, faith and purity, Robinson said.

“You are not a puppet wired for sound. You must be a godly person for yourself or else you’ll discover after a while you feel like a phony fraud and hypocrite.” Church members need to see in the preacher “a model of the message you’re preaching.”

Noting Paul’s instruction for Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, exhortation and teaching, Robinson said although Christians now have multiple translations of Scripture, preachers should still give careful attention to its public reading.

In regard to exhortation, Robinson said, “It is not talking to people in the pew about the Bible. It is talking about them from the Bible — applying the truth of God to people’s lives.” Through the skill of exhortation, preachers “can move people to the heavens or grind them into the earth.” They can be challenged in God’s power “to be betterthan they ever thought they could be or filled with guilt.”

“You need to know how to do exhortation, apply the truth, inspire people to spiritual greatness.”

Giving attention to teaching involves more than content, Robinson said, urging seminary students to develop their skills in communication. Whether people are growing depends a large part on what takes place in the pulpit on Sunday morning, he added. “If God has summoned you to that task, it follows he will equip you for the task.”

When Paul urges Timothy not to neglect his gift, Robinson said the writer is not talking about “something that comes into your ministry full-blown” like a great oak tree on the hillside. “It comes like a seed planted in your life. You have to work at it to see it grow and flower. If you’re busy about other matters, you often ignore the thing that matters most,” Robinson said, noting the tragedy of neglecting one’s gift.

“Sometimes you’ll hear people say of a pastor, ‘He’s a wonderful pastor, but a poor preacher.’ That’s not a compliment. That’s an insult,” Robinson said, comparing it to a surgeon known for a wonderful bedside manner who doesn’t know how to cut.

He spoke of great preachers who practiced their gifts in the swamps and forests. “Before they inflicted themselves on people, they inflicted themselves on plants.” Many taught in Sunday school classes, rescue missions, and street meetings, taking “every opportunity they could to perfect the gift by practicing.”

Preaching becomes the “magnificent obsession” of those who are effective at it, Robinson said. “I’ve been able to know a wonderful number of effective communicators of God’s truth,” he recalled, observing they’re “always thinking about how to illustrate, how to make a point, talk about ways to get past people’s defenses, so they’ll hear the Word of God in a fresh, new way.

“One of benefits of being an expository preacher is that you are constantly in the Word of God,” Robinson said. “You not only understand its truth to fashion it so you can benefit other people. First of all it must benefit you.

“The reason you are to put yourself first and the public reading of the Scriptures second is that there is a great deal of stake.”

Heeding Paul’s urging to Timothy to watch his life and teaching closely, Robinson said the result will be “to save both yourself and your hearers.”

Robinson said pastors who wonder how to compete with the appeal of television preachers should focus on being godly. “If you preach effectively and you’re not preaching to the world at large, you’re preaching to the people in front of you so that they can be saved from the heresies of the day.”

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  • Tammi Ledbetter