I wanted to call this post The Gospel According to The Waltons, but I realized as powerful as this snippet is from that TV show, there’s so much more that could said about the way the good news is presented according to the Walton family. So maybe we’ll consider this to be a first installment of a book I may never get around to writing. What could I find so compelling about such an old TV show as to blog about it today? If you listen, you’ll hear John Walton dealing with one of the most persistent complaints we hear to this day: preachers / priests / church leaders are hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach.
“How’s my sermon?” asks the young preacher.
Jim Bob answers, “Scary.”
Moments later, John Walton gives the preacher a little advice, “Well far be it for me to tell you what to say, Reverend, but about the way you say it. You see most folks around here aren’t used to being shouted at. And, um, a lot of us won’t understand some of the fancy language you’re using. I was just going to suggest that you say what you’re going to say, but a little simpler and easier, that’s all.” The preacher’s response is arrogant and condescending. Indeed, in both his reaction to Jim Bob’s “scary” assessment and to John Walton, the young preacher shows that he just doesn’t get it—he’s not connecting to real people.
The message must live in the preacher before it can be proclaimed. If our hope is that people will hear God speak to them through the preacher, then the preacher must have a Word-centered spirituality. Others may develop a spirituality which revolves around acts of compassion or service or worship or discernment, but preachers must have a Word-centred spirituality if they are to preach the Word with power. The Apostle Paul recounts how the Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thess 1:9-10, TNIV). This happened, Paul explains, because “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe” (1 Thess 2:13, TNIV). Through the preaching of the apostle, they heard God speak to them. The instructor of preaching instructors, Haddon Robinson, gives this working definition of preaching. Note how the Word must first be applied to the preacher:
Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers. (Biblical Preaching 2nd ed., 21)
Yes, the Word must be experienced before it is proclaimed. If not, it will probably just be words without power. C.S. Lewis compares our use of the Bible as if it were an encyclopedia giving us references to preach versus being steeped in the Word like tea, allowing it to gradually flavour us until we know it so well that we are able to speak its message. Shouting cannot make up for the lack of passion which comes from transformation.
This episode of Walton’s Mountain is not titled, “The Preacher,” it is in fact titled “The Sinner.” It’s definitely worth watching the rest, but in short, the preacher visits the Baldwin sisters which ultimately leads to a public display of drunkenness. His credibility is shot before he even preaches his first sermon. He later confesses to John and John Boy, “I recognize how hollow and righteous all my words were.” But it doesn’t end there. John helps him to discover that you preach from what God is doing in you. You preach authentically sharing from the Word as you’ve experienced it. That’s how preaching becomes solid, rather than hollow and self-righteous. Thanks to John, the young preacher does preach a powerful sermon at the end of the episode, but it sounds nothing like the practised message which Jim Bob said was “scary.”
When I think of all the sermons I’ve heard in my life, there’s only been a few that changed me—just a few messages in which I heard God speaking to me in power, the Spirit enlightening me and Christ coming alongside me. Many times I’ve heard the preacher affirm the truth of God’s Word and I have responded to the Spirit’s prompting, but I long for those sermons in which the passion of the preacher is ignited and the powerful Word burns through the preacher like wildfire and I am transformed. What’s your experience been like in listening to preaching? Why not leave a comment and maybe tell us about the most powerful message you ever heard. How did you encounter God in that preaching and what happened to you as a result?