In Defense of Preaching Models
I think we need to be careful. As I read Scripture, I’m struck by a couple things that are pertinent to this topic. First, we should expect that a disciple will resemble his teacher: “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Jesus took this to be self-evident. He was not arguing that a student should look like his teacher, he was arguing that a student will look like his teacher. Sometimes, this is bad and a disciple needs to reject his teacher (a theologically liberal professor should not be followed). But it is normally true (check out this principle in action, for good or for ill).
Then there is Paul who encouraged his disciples to follow his example–to the extent that Paul was following Christ. He put it pretty simply, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Now I don’t think that Paul was addressing preaching style. He said this in the context of a discussion about Christian liberty. Sometimes it is hard to know what to do and how to live–the Bible does not give textbook instructions for every scenario. In such a situation what should we do? Paul’s counsel was straightforward, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
So what does this have to do with preaching? Sure, we should find our own voice, be ourselves, be natural, etc. But I think it just as important to find a good model–and by good I don’t mean a preacher with obvious success, but a preacher with an obvious love for God, practical obedience of God, knowledge of the Scriptures, and a confidence that the preached Word is effective. Find a man like that, a man who is following Christ, and model him. How does he approach the text? What kinds of questions does he ask? What kind of insight does he tend to offer? How does he tie things together? How does he use illustrations? How does he end the sermon? How does he begin the sermon?
The answers to these questions are not inspired and they should never overshadow the examples and directives we have in Scripture–Jesus sharing parables or Paul at Mars Hill, for example. But I think contemporary models are useful.
So, should we be concerned about the celebrity culture of evangelicalism in general and the Reformed corner in particular? Absolutely! But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Models are a great gift from God. If we as preachers are passionately following Christ and are being helped by examples that have walked before us, be thankful. As time goes on and we preach enough sermons we will “find ourselves.” In the meantime, find a godly example and follow him.
Now, to make this personal.
As a very young preacher, I was told I preached like Mark Dever–and I took it as a criticism. Now, as someone who has preached a few years, when I hear it (I have at least once this past year) I take it as a compliment.