T. David Gordon. Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers. Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2009. 112 pp. $9.75.
I’ve long believed that the preaching responsibility of pastors is the area in which most pastors are least willing to learn and grow. It is far too easy for us to assume we are doing a good job, especially if people keep showing up and telling us happy things as they leave the building. Yet, if we are honest, few of us spend a proper amount of time developing the craft of creating solid, biblical, and beautiful sermons.
In Why Johnny Can’t Preach, T. David Gordon laments the state of modern preaching and offers some very helpful challenges for those whose task it is to regularly present God’s messages to God’s people. Gordon believes that many pastors in modern churches lack three major skills needed to be prepared to present powerful homilies. These skills include the ability to closely examine a text (reading), to wisely compose a message (writing), and to recognize what is actually important in life (a sense of the significant).
Without reviewing how Gordon makes his points, I will simply state that I agree with his major thoughts. Many pastors, I believe, do not regularly review their preaching for significance, quality, or effectiveness. Sadly, a pragmatic measure of attendance or a subjective feeling of how people are supposedly responding to the messages he presents are the key measures that the preachers I know tend to use. Often, these false measures can mask the fact that many sermons are arranged poorly, handle the text carelessly, slide into unbiblical thinking, end up moralistic or legalistic, or fall into a host of other problems.
Gordon argues that we will improve our preaching when we recover abilities that many have lost in our modern era. Preachers will improve when we learn to closely read texts in a way similar to the way that people from years ago knew how to closely read literature or poetry. We will also preach more beautifully when we learn to compose a sermon in ways similar to the way that people of old could thoughtfully arrange and compose speeches and correspondence. Pastors similarly should develop the discipline of putting away what is insignificant and learn to latch onto what matters–a difficult task in our media-saturated age.
This book is a short and easy read with some big challenges. I recommend it to those who would preach God’s word. Even if we think we are doing well, it cannot hurt us to let Gordon challenge us to go deeper and to not rest on our present state of preaching.