Rhetoric & Homiletics: Maybe The Cause Is Not What We Would Like To Address!

Image result for “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” ― Mark Twain  Maybe It Is Us?

The claim is made — and it is made repeatedly with really little support and/or precision —  that church attendance is on the decline and/or the younger generations are no longer attending church.

I say with little support and without precision, because I know, as do you, that “statistics are pliable.”  It depends on the question being asked, the demographic being questioned, the size of the sample, the makeup of the sample, the variables included or excluded, correlation is not causation, etc.

As we know, merely by including “Christendom” into the sample changes everything!

I do not doubt that there are various dynamics operating in our American culture and society, which has changed the commitment of God’s people to being in church “whenever the doors are open.”

However, to whatever degree the landscape is changing concerning church attendance at Bible-believing church ministries — and it is — may I suggest that one of the oft missed reasons is biblical qualification — “apt to teach” — I Timothy 3:2, II Timothy 3:24, Ephesians 4:11-12

There are plenty of discussions about those who miss the other biblical qualifications for ministry — and rightfully so. . . . .

√  materialistic and/or greedy preachers (i.e., Stephen Furtick)
√  men in the pulpit who not blameless because of immoral choices — sexual and otherwise (i.e., Jimmy Swaggert / Ted Haggard)
√  those who have been described as abusive — “must not strive; but be gentle” (i.e., James MacDonald)
√  men in ministry who have failed in raising children who love the Lord
√  woman in preaching and teaching ministries (i.e. Beth Moore is the focus these days)

But what about the qualification — “apt to teach?”  When is that qualification ever brought up?  “He is a terrible preacher” usually relates to what they are teaching.  In fact, there are some “terrible preachers” who are very effective communicators — that is why there is more than one qualification for ministry!

That is not to diminish any of the other qualifications. But it is to say that the pulpit ministry requires “apt to teach” as much as any other.

One may be in ministry, but not in the preaching and teaching ministry, if they lack the ability to edify God’s people — if they are not “apt to teach.”

After years of teaching various speech classes on the college and university level, I knew rather quickly if a student had the rudimentary elements of being an effective speaker.  They did not have to be great or even good, but you could tell — “They get it.”  Whether it was public speaking, oral interpretation, debate, or drama, you could see the genesis of the needed elements.

Likewise, while teaching homiletics and pulpit speech, there were those . . . .

•  who left you with an uncertain response
•  who demonstrated a good grasp of the elements
•  those who just had it from the beginning.

I understand that whether any or all individuals should be in ministry was a factor of more than their speaking ability.  That is why there are other qualifications!  Nevertheless, you cannot be “hard on the listeners” — over a meaningful period of time — and be called to the pulpit ministry.

Yes, all speakers . . . .

•  have bombed — have a terrible speaking experience
•  improve over time
•  have strengths and weakness
•  do better or worse with this-or-that genre of Scripture
•  can and do learn homiletically and/or rhetorically
•  will feel bad about a good sermon, and good about a weak sermon
•  “believe their own press” — “Thank you, pastor, that was great this morning.”
•  get into ruts, some weak to terrible rhetorical ruts
•  have speaking habits (gestures, overused wordings-phrases, poor eye contact) which distract, not enhance

But at the end — “apt to teach” means “apt to teach.”  Such a phrase obviously means that they have an above-average ability to communicate.  Not an exceptional ability . . .

to understand theology
at apologetic argument
to be comfortable on stage —  a good “stage presence”
understanding the historical context and customs
original languages
biblical panorama

(Yes, all or many may be part of being one who is “apt to teach.”)

“Apt to teach” surely must mean that one has the seeds of and/or possesses the homiletical-rhetorical elements for effective communication.  That they are unlike many others who may be sound in their Bible knowledge and are living for the Lord, but are not effective communicators — time after time after time after time. . . . .

Just like some are gifted and effective in missions but should not be pastors (because there is a different set of ministry skills needed for each), there are some who have been called to ministry, but not the pulpit-preaching-teaching ministry.

Nevertheless, there is little will on the part of those in ministry and those involved in seminary education (and even those sitting in the pews who find it difficult to listen) to caution or advise some headed for or in the preaching-teaching ministry (professional or lay) to rethink their ministry role.

I understand the reluctance!

I don’t want to discourage anyone whom the Lord has called to ministry.

In my teaching career, I have had the opportunity to listen to some who are headed to a local church ministry (and in ministry), and I want to say . . .

You may well have a mediocre-to-ineffective pulpit ministry if you do not get serious about developing and improving your “apt to teach” skills.

If you think that is ungracious or too critical, let me ask a question . . . . .

Have you visited a church, listened to a sermon, read a commentary, called up a message online and said, “Rather uninspiring” (i.e., boring).

Maybe church attendance has a correlation to “apt to teach.”

Maybe those who listen week after week know what it means to be “apt to teach,” and it can be seen by their attendance?  Just saying.


Church attendance
is related
to whether or not
you can effectively provide a biblical meal
to those who have been are walking
through a week of oppressive heat
in a worldly desert,
and who are looking for
and wanting
something for their souls
on Sunday morning!


Yancy Arrington states what many already people in the pew painfully realize . . .  .

Too many preachers take for granted that their Sunday morning delivery needs little improvement.  They may think to themselves, “Hey, I got the role of preacher in the first place.  Surely that means I’m relatively good at delivery.  Avoid this false presumption — there are churches all across the nation led by individuals who can’t preach. 

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