“Preaching isn’t as important as it used to be,” I heard a middle-aged man tell me a few weeks ago. “Preaching has become antiquated. It is no longer effective.”
Sadly, I doubt this man shares this opinion all by himself. I believe there are a growing number of people who view preaching as ‘outdated’ or ‘old-fashioned’ – something no longer necessary or relevant to them.
Can we blame people for thinking this? After all, when most preaching now days no longer challenges us – no longer keeps us interested – no longer exegetes the Word – no longer exposes sin – no longer teaches the whole Gospel – preaching inevitably becomes a waste of time.
Saving Eutychus: How To Preach God’s Word And Keep People Awake (by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell) reminds us of what real preaching looks like: Gospel focused, exegetical, true-to-the-text, and genuine.
The book gets its name from Acts 20, where we read about a man (named Eutychus) who fell asleep during Paul’s very long sermon, fell out of a third story window, and died. Luckily, the apostle healed the man. But to Paul’s credit, it took a sermon several hours long to make Eutychus fall asleep; it only takes me about 10 minutes! Yet, “Saving Eutychus doesn’t just mean keeping him awake. It also means doing our best to keep him fresh and alert so he can hear the truth of the gospel and be saved” (p. 15).
This book challenged me, especially the chapter on prayer. When I’m working against the clock to make sure my sermon is ready, prayer is one of the first things I am tempted to neglect. What a tragedy! “Do we actually believe [that God uses preaching]? If we do believe it, then we will pray – we will pray before we speak, and we will pray before they speak. It’s that simple” (p. 21).
The goal of the book is to help preachers preach more faithfully to the text, and to do so without being boring. Here are some excerpts from the book:
The opposite of practicing cunning or tampering with the truth (2 Cor. 4:2) is not being faithful but dull. Rather, it is being so truth-driven that we wouldn’t dream of twisting the message to suite our own ends or of trying to manipulate either the message or people to promote our own agenda. (p. 28)
The key to preaching, then, is to make the message of the text obvious. Help people see it and feel it. Help people to understand the text. Paul is talking about what I would call ‘expository preaching,’ in which the message of the text is the message of the sermon. (p. 29)
The kind of preaching that changes people’s lives, that changes people’s hearts, is preaching that allows the text to speak. (p. 30)
I’m talking about using words that are easy to get your mouth around. I’m talking about using the words that you’d use in the kitchen or on the bus. I’m talking about choosing the clearest, least stilted words you can. Listen to yourself sometime. And then eschew utilizing cumbersome terminology when a less pretentious vocabulary would adequately suffice. (p. 52)
Please keep in mind that alliteration is no longer considered tasteful. (p. 53)
Every Sunday across my smiling congregations I’ll be talking to at least two or three men on the brink of a catastrophic office romance, three or four guys struggling with same-sex attraction, and a hundred and fifty or so – all of them – drawn to internet pornography like flies to a honey pot. And that’s just the men. And they’re all smiling at me as if they’ve got it all together. Messy? Yes. But the reality of sin reminds us that it’s all the more important to keep looking through the Gospel lens as we move to application instead of just making more rules (p. 70)
To miss the point of a passage because we have decided that what we want to say is more important than what God has to say is sinful. (p. 116)
What you need to know about Saving Eutychus:
1. This book is an easy read (I read it in one day). Including the appendixes, it is only 169 pages long and is written in plain, easy-to-read English.
2. This book is denominational (It is not written by N.T. Christians). One of the sample sermons in the back of the book (p. 134) contains false teaching about baptism. The book also has a few uncomfortable allusions to how the Spirit operates in the lives of people today.
3. This book belongs on your shelf (with the above point in mind). There is no shortage of lame preachers. The Lord’s Church needs more lively, energetic, true-to-the-Word preachers! And this book will help you be one of those preachers.
4. This book is worth it just for the list of “Advantages of Heart-Changing, Expository Preaching” (p. 40) and “Top Ten Tips For Being Clearer” (p. 50). Get the book, and read these lists regularly.