“I don’t’ believe you!” he would shout from the last row of the classroom.
John Holland was one tough task-master. He taught a seminary course titled, “The Public Reading of Scripture.” Mr. Holland could smell if something was disingenuous from a mile away. If there was anything “affected” in our Scripture reading, anything that seemed “put-on,” he’d let us have it.
While a gifted actor, he couldn’t stand it if someone was acting when they read the Holy Scriptures.
John was an actor and singer whose career was sidetracked by World War II. Some said he may have been the next “Clark Gable,” but the war interrupted all of Hollywood. He certainly seemed to have the presence and looks for it. He worked on Broadway (having gone to the Julliard School in voice), Television, and in movies for 60 years. His most well-known films were “My Fair Lady,” playing the butler, and in Jack Nicholson’s “Chinatown.”
When John read Holy Scripture, the meaning of the text sprang to life. As much presence as he had personally, the story of the biblical passage was not superseded. He decreased while the Holy Scripture increased.
We often discussed preaching in class, and the lessons he taught about reading have essential application for preaching.
1) Express your integrity and sincerity as a preacher.
Preachers need to be their own person and not try to act (or preach) like someone else. Preaching is not acting. Trying to be someone else lacks integrity and comes across as insincere. In a classic text on preaching, Phillip Brooks forever joined the words truth and personality. Express the truth of Christ in a way integral to your own personality.
2) Display conviction and passion as a preacher.
The toughest time in John Holland’s class was when he bellowed out, “You don’t believe it!” For a bible-believing Christian to be told you didn’t believe the Scripture you were reading was a hard pill to swallow.
Preachers need to preach to themselves before anyone else. Has the message gripped you? Have you come to believe at a deeper level how the text reveals God? Your people will know if you believe it. Preachers of genuine conviction and passion are better communicators. Whatever your personality, this is best expressed when the preacher has experienced the inner-witness of the Holy Spirit. There is no substitute for the inner-witness of the Spirit in preaching.
Pastor, as you approach the Holy Scripture this week, read it again and again. Let God speak to you as a person. Work hard at your exegetical and homiletical task. Pray harder. Read the text well.
If you do these things, when you finish preaching this week, your people may say, “That was powerful. The pastor really believed it!”
And you’re your people will be more likely to believe it too.