I have been reading John Henry Jowett’s The Preacher: His Life and Work lately — and, I have to say, I have been deeply moved by nearly every word. That isn’t hyperbole. This is my first introduction to Jowett’s work but, nonetheless, I have found The Preacher to be quite affecting. Jowett was an incredibly influential orator and minister, and that carries through in his writing as well. The Preacher is, essentially, a collection of lectures he delivered at Yale, all of which are concerned with the pastorate. In the fourth lecture in the series, entitled, “The Preacher in His Study,” Jowett makes the following reverberating statement:
Preaching that costs nothing accomplishes nothing.
I can relate with this. This is something that I have, indeed, acutely felt. I won’t exaggerate in saying that I feel this every week, but most weeks following a sermon, I feel the cost. When I preach, it costs me something. Part of me gets left in the pulpit. And I’m not saying that so you look at me piously. That’s just how I approach, well, everything. That’s the way I operate. For example, when I played basketball, I had no “off” switch. (Which, of course, is likely why I have ACL issues to this day.) I played hard and fast and fierce. To be sure, I was never the best player on the court, even though I’d carry myself that way. I could certainly hold my own on the pickup basketball scene. But I always, always, always played to win. When the game was over, I wanted there to be no question as to whether or not I had left my all on the hardwood. If my team lost, I didn’t want it to be because of a lack of effort (on my part, at least). And I think a similar mentality motivates my ministerial efforts.
I have always resonated with St. Paul’s confession that he worked harder than all the other apostles, not because he wanted attention, but because he saw himself as “the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle.” (1 Cor 15:9–10) And yet, notwithstanding how hard Paul worked, he was beholden to the grace of God that was working through him. Likewise, I preach the Word with fervor and fire not because I want people to look at me or react to me in a certain way, but because I want people to see that I am preaching from the deepest part of me, from my soul. When I deliver a sermon, I am not merely repeating persuasive rhetoric. I’m bearing my soul. Preaching costs me something. And, rightly, it should. Because the Person about whom I am preaching gave everything. The cross cost him everything. He expended all of himself for sinners. Therefore, sermons faithfully delivered will always be expensive.
John Henry Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1912), 114.