“As we seek faith and pray together, the power will be in the preaching, and other matters such as style will begin to take their own course. However, I don’t mean that the models we imitate, the decision whether to use a manuscript, effectiveness in eye contact, and tone of voice are not important. They can reveal some hang-ups in us, specifically a hanging on to some kind of false self-image, or officialism, which quenches the Spirit in us.
But I do think the chief thing in effective ministry–as a total endeavor–is the presence of the Spirit in the man–changing him through the gospel, breaking down our idols, and building us into the glorious image of Christ. Often a wrong self-image or a distorted one, which hinders liberty in preaching, is simply a life minus much real fellowship with Christ through the Spirit. When preaching is blandly intellectual, contentless exhortation, or heavily doctrinal, usually there is also missing the Spirit’s presence. The man is only a man preaching to men–not a ‘bush aglow.’
My own struggles in this area have been utterly humbling. When believers come and entreat me to talk with their pastors about the lack of excitement in their preaching, I remember well how crushed I felt when a brother said to me, ‘I’m sorry, but your preaching doesn’t edify me.’ Those are the words a member of New Life spoke to me about four years ago. But God made this comment into a great blessing. I asked the brother to pray for me. He later came and said, ‘Your preaching has really helped me.’ God used his words to shock me awake, to cause me to simplify my messages, to recruit people to pray for me, and to make my preaching more Christ-centered.”
Also, I have been gifted with Rose Marie, who not only speaks about my failures with clarity, but is not afraid to tell me that the message ‘sounded more like Jack than the Holy Spirit.’ Almost always she is right. There is a mystery in the Holy Spirit’s presence, but the mystery should not be overstated. Most non-intellectual types can tell intuitively whether the Spirit is present in preaching. They feel His wooing, a conviction, a desire to be changed, and a longing to be holy, and they know deep in their conscience that God Himself is speaking through the preacher to them personally.
Of course you must evaluate both praise and blame, and when it comes to non-intellectual types, they need to be taken seriously. When they say, ‘I’m not being changed by your preaching,’ one must do some soul-searching and be driven to new earnestness in prayer. I do not, of course, think of prayer as retirement from the battle to the isolation of a remote study, but the vertical aspect of vigorous shepherding. Usually when our praying is weak, so is our shepherding spirit; we have more in common with the hireling than the Shepherd who died for His sheep. To me this is probably my worst sin–lack of love for God’s sheep, a holy passion to see them kept from the cliffs and wolves, and fed in greed pastures.”
–C. John Miller, The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller. ed. Barbara Miller Juliani (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 100-102.