Each of the illustrations included in this section comes from presentations given during the first National Conference on Preaching (NCP), held February 21-23 at the First Baptist Church of Tampa, Florida.
CHRIST -- One we can trust
"A few months ago I was confronted by a rather large college-age group in our church. They were very, very angry. They had just heard that yet another well-known Christian leader had confessed to immoral behavior.
"They said, 'Stuart, do you have any idea how hard it is to try to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ on the college campus? Have you any idea how much ridicule we take? Have you any idea how difficult it is to cope with all the sexual opportunities that come our way and to remain pure? We have been taught, we have been trained, we have been encouraged to stand tall on the college campus, and now the very leader of the group we are in has confessed to doing all the things you guys have been encouraging us not to do!' Then they looked at me and said, 'Who of your generation can we trust?'
"Seemed to me a perfectly valid question. I sounded rather trite in my answer and said, 'Probably none of us. That is why it's imperative that you have your feet on the solid rock, the only One who won't let you down.'
"If we look at men or look at women, sooner or later we're going to see the flaws, see the faults, and we're going to be discouraged. This is no excuse for irreponsible behavior; neither does it suggest that those who are called to teach are not called to a higher standard. But we must also be realistic in pointing out to people that they must be sure about Christ." (Stuart Briscoe, Pastor of Elmbrook Church, Waukesha, WI, at NCP)
CHURCH -- All involved in preaching
Clyde E. Fant told about meeting the editor of the Baptist newspaper in Wales, a nation with a great preaching tradition. The great Welsh preachers used to be called the nine-penny nails, the editor explained; at many church meetings, laymen would complain, "Where are the nine-penny nails? There aren't any more nine-penny nails."
The editor went on: "I got so tired of it. At the last meeting someone said, 'Where are the nine-penny nails?' and I said, 'You don't need nine-penny nails on plywood'!"
Fant says: "Preaching is always in context. We never preach in isolation. Preaching is an act that involves the whole community of faith." (Clyde E. Fant, Dean of the Chapel at Stetson University, DeLand, FL, at NCP)
Lloyd Ogilvie recalls William Booth's statement: "When I got the poor of London on my heart and caught a vision of what Jesus Christ, the reigning Lord, could do with those people, though I knew there were many with greater training, greater wisdom, greater intelligence, greater power than William Booth, I was determined that the living Christ would have all of William Booth that there was."
Ogilvie says, "I believe that's our call. And the only commitment and response we can make: does He have all that there is of us?" (Lloyd Ogilvie, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Hollywood, CA, at NCP)
COMMITMENT -- Many avoid
"Not infrequently I find people who are very interested in the church, quite interested in Christ, certainly interested in getting all the help they can from whatever source --including religion -- but if I try to confront them in the name of Christ with the issues Christ raised, they find themselves unprepared to confront them. Disciples confront the issues Christ raised." (Stuart Briscoe, Pastor of Elmbrook Church, Waukesha, WI, at NCP)
CONVERSION -- Each must experience
"A. K. Chalmers, professor of homiletics at Boston University, loved to tell about the time he and some friends went nature gliding or sliding. They were going through the mountains in winter and came to one of these natural slides. The guide had a hard time getting them to try it at first because it appeared they would go shooting off into oblivion, but after a long time they sat down on that ice and slid on it and it was exhilarating!
"They all tried it with the exception of one. He absolutely refused; his courage failed him. But after they had finished playing and went back to the camp, that one who had refused to try it looked back up on the side of the mountain and said, 'Look, that's where we slid down.' Within the span of one hour he had begun to identify with an experience he had never shared.
"Our pews are filled with folk who identify with experiences they have never shared." (William Hinson, Pastor of First United Methodist Church, Houston, TX, at NCP)
"In January of 1984, John Paul II walked into a Roman prison to meet with Mohammed Ali Agha -- a man who had tried to kill him in St. Peter's Square -- to say, 'I forgive you.' The press picked it up and said, 'What's the big deal? Forgiveness is his business.'
"Unfortunately, in our culture, forgiveness seems to be nobody's business." (Bill Self, Pastor of Wieuca Road Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA, at NCP)
FUTURE -- Cannot predict
"Many, many years ago there was a king who had a horse which had carried him into battle, had been a faithful steed, and he wanted to do something to reward that horse. He called one of the wise men/magicians of his kingdom into court and said, 'Wise man, I want you to give my horse the gift of flying.'
"The wise man said, 'Oh king, such a gift cannot be lightly or quickly bestowed. I will need time.'
"The king said, 'I will give you twelve months. And if, at the end of twelve months, you have not given my horse the gift of flight, I shall have your head.'
"When the wise man left court, a friend said, 'Why did you ask for twelve months? You now have twelve months to dread the execution!'
"The wise man replied, "Who knows? It may be that in twelve months the king will die. It may be that in twelve months I will die. And it may be that in twelve months that horse will fly!" (B. Clayton Bell, Pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, Dallas, TX, at NCP)
MINISTRY -- God seen through our weakness
"When a jeweler wants to display the cut, the clarity, the color of a diamond, he doesn't put it against a background of other diamonds. He puts it against a black velvet backdrop, a relatively valueless thing, in order that the clarity of the stone might be seen.
"Paul says when God wanted to show His own power, He chose to display it and to manifest it conspicuously in a person like Paul -- someone who would admit, after all,, 'I am just a clay pot'." (Joel Gregory, Pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church, Fort Worth, TX, at NCP)
MINISTRY - Treasure of
"When Charles IV was King of Spain, he knew that Napoleon was about to invade Spain, and he wanted to hide his priceless collection of antique clocks as well as the crown jewels of Spain. So he asked a trusted servant to take those antique clocks and the jewels of Spain and hide them in two separate rooms of the royal palace. The servant did so, and he cut off a piece of the drapery so they could find in which of the 365 rooms they would be.
"Napoleon came and stole his brother Joseph, and ruled there. Ferdinand VII, years later, took the kingdom back for Spain, and the first thing he wanted to do was find the crown jewels, the family heirlooms. The problem was, the Bonaparte family were something of interior decorators, and they had changed the draperies in every one of the 365 rooms. They faced tearing out the walls of the palace or simply taking their losses, so they took their losses.
"It was just thought to be a tall tale until several years ago a plumber repairing one of the walls of the palace tore away the bricks and found that priceless collection of antique clocks. So now it's expected that some day, some time, some workman will tear away some wall, and there he will find the last, lost crown jewels of a European monarchy.
"There is a sense in preaching and carrying the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that we are always discovering and rediscovering lost treasure. And we should never lose that sense of serendipity, of the romance of the gospel." (Joel Gregory, Pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church, Fort Worth, TX, at NCP)
PREACHING -- Must make impact
"I preached in a little church not long ago. While I was waiting to preach I looked and saw a fire extinguisher on the side of the pulpit. Strangest thing I'd ever seen!
"But the more I thought about it, the more appropriate it seemed, because if a fire is going to start anywhere it's likely to start in the pulpit. If it doesn't start there, you can forget about the rest of it." (William Hinson, Pastor of First United Methodist Church, Houston, TX, at NCP)
PREACHING -- Must start in Scripture
"When I was in seminary and I took a preaching class, seems like they told you in the preaching class that the preacher was supposed to stand in the pulpit with the Bible in one hand and today's newspaper in the other ... The preacher stood with one foot in the biblical world and one foot in the modern world, and tried to bring those worlds together in the sermon ...
"The trouble with life situation preaching or with much of our preaching -- conservative or liberal -- is that the traffic seemed to move one direction on that bridge. It was always the modern world putting the questions to the Bible; it was the modern world deciding what in the Bible was relevant or irrelevant, possible or impossible. So that most of our preaching is in the translation mode; we start with some modern category.
"But one thing we overlooked in reaching out to speak to the modern world -- to translate this gospel into more contemporary categories -- one thing we overlooked is it was this brave new modern world that gave us Dachau, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. The modern world gave us not only TV and the telephone but the Nazis. That is the world we are supposed to make the gospel credible to?" (William Willimon, Minister to the University and Professor of the Practice of Ministry, Duke University, Durham, NC)
"When 'My Fair Lady' was having its long run on Broadway, a couple from Atlanta planned their whole vacation around the availability of tickets for a matinee performance. It was something like eight months in advance they had to secure their tickets.
"They went to New York City on the appropriate weekend. They got to the theatre in plenty of time, found their seats -- they were good seats on the fourth or fifth row in the center section -- and took their seats and anticipated the play. Every seat was filled except the seat to the left of the man. The curtain rose, and no one had taken the seat.
"At intermission, he turned to the woman on the opposite side of the empty seat and said, 'This is amazing! We had to buy our tickets eight months in advance, and we get here and find an empty seat.'
"She said, 'Well, that seat belongs to me, too. It was my husband's seat. He died.'
"The man said, 'I'm terribly sorry. But couldn't you have invited a friend to come with you?'
"She answered, 'No, they were all at the funeral!" (B. Clayton Bell, Pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, Dallas, TX, at NCP)
RESPONSE -- Not always what we desire
"An Episcopal priest went out to begin a worship service in a large cathedral. He had to use a microphone, and he wanted to begin in the traditional way: 'The Lord be with you,' and the people would respond, 'And with your spirit.' So he picked up the microphone and started, and realized when he tried to use it there was something wrong with the microphone.
"Tapping on the microphone, he said, 'There's something wrong with this microphone.' But just at that point the little wires clicked into position and what he said was broadcast all over the nave of the great cathedral -- and the people responded, 'And with your spirit'." (Lloyd Ogilvie, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Hollywood, CA, at NCP)