A Book Review on
Why Johnny Can’t Preach
By T. David Gordon
Is there anyone out there that has a pastor who they believe is a good preacher? I’m not talking about being a good pastor, but specifically, a good preacher. You can be a good pastor, but be lousy at preaching. You can also be a great preacher, but be a lousy pastor.
I’ve known pastors who hated to visit the shut-ins, or would always find an excuse not to share in gospel reach-outs. Some pastors have been known to be terrible at relationships. I’ve even met one that was later to be found in a grave sin. We would certainly not agree that these were good pastors.
Being a good pastor is something that every church needs, but being a good preacher is what every church wants. What most pulpit committees fail to consider when they search for a pastor is whether the candidate is capable of not only interpreting Scripture, but being fully capable of formulating a message that can captivate the hearer. A pastor must not only be a leader, but must be capable of instilling that sense of leadership.
God’s Word can be spoken standing on top of a milk crate to a public crowd, or it can be tattooed on the skin of scantily clad women. The message is the same, but the changing medium (how the message is delivered) has the effect of nullifying that message, or otherwise eliminating the force of the message.
Gordon’s treatise is largely an anecdotal and subjective examination. I say that with much reservation, because I don’t wish anyone reading this to think that Gordon is off his mark. To the contrary, Gordon hits the proverbial nail on the head repeatedly, sinking the nail deep into the wood of mediocrity that we have come to expect from our preachers.
I think that preaching is a protected vocation, in that those who criticize Johnny the Preacher, do so against the majority of those who protect their preacher at all costs. Preachers have become protected largely because they are viewed as “God’s man” for the job, and if you criticize the Preacher, it is believed that you criticize God, Himself.
Yet, God clearly outlines that there are qualifications for those who would pastor a church. Some of those qualifications deal specifically in whether or not you get a mediocre “Man of God” or someone who is dedicated to furthering God’s Kingdom. Of course, being a good preacher is not mentioned as one of the criteria in I Timothy 3. But preaching was not necessarily a specific part of the “bishops” job in the first few centuries of Christianity. However, the Bible is clear that Preaching the Word is not to be dealt with lightly, and those who do so carry a larger burden of responsibility.
Preaching has developed over the centuries, and is now indubitably a functional part of the Christian church and preacher. The question that necessarily arises is: “How important is it to have a good Preacher in your church?” If you want Gordon to answer this question with reference to the Bible, you won’t find that answer fully explored here. As I stated, this book derives its foundation from anecdotal and subjective examination. This is regrettable, because there is plenty of solid Biblical material, particularly in Isaiah and Jeremiah, where a Bible student could learn that the Pastor is to be the Shepherd of God’s local flocks, and because of a lack of teaching, the people did not even know the basics of their faith.
The Old Testament taught that “without a vision, the people perish”, (Proverbs 29:18) and the sense of this verse is that the people perish because they are naked; and the nakedness is a lack of knowledge and performance of God’s law. What an important job the pastor has in instilling the importance of God’s Word in the life of his listeners.
Where Gordon does excel is in his insight of some of the things that currently plague the Church. For example, he outlines how it is that much of the Church is enamored with certain mind-sets, which he refers to as the “Four Failures.” In this, he gives warnings of the traps that Christian churches can fall in to, such as Galatianism.
Unfortunately, he utterly fails in his examination of what he refers to as the “Culture War.” He paints it as a total misperception of what Americans can accomplish, and what they should accomplish, extolling the failed virtues of socialism. In reality, the Culture Wars should be framed about what Christians should want from Government, and that is what we should fight for: not to coerce others, but to govern ourselves.
I would recommend this book to those who need encouragement in finding a preacher, or to those who are preaching and have lost (or perhaps never found) their way in the pulpit. The anecdotal information contained in this book is impressive and provoking, and will leave you with a sense of where we need to go to with our preachers and preaching.
This comment from Lloyd-George, British prime minister during the First World War, shows us the importance of speaking God’s Word, especially at opportune times: “When the chariot of humanity gets stuck…nothing will lift it out except great preaching that goes straight to the mind and the heart. There is nothing in this case that will save the world but what was once called, ‘the foolishness of preaching.’ ”
For those who are looking for a thorough, biblically oriented approach, I would recommend W. A. Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors, which not only gives a great outlook for the job of the preacher, but gives a thorough view of the characteristics of a good pastor/orator. However, the main difference between Criswell’s approach and Gordon’s is that Criswell’s approach is purely mechanical, and assumes that the preacher’s heart is already melted in God’s hand. On the other hand, Gordon assumes that preachers are in varying stages of relationship with God, some perhaps completely out of fellowship, and others simply ignorant of what God expects of them.
In any event, I wish and pray the best for you. Above all, I pray that if you are searching for a means of preaching quality sermons for your hearers, that your motivation is pure, and that your results are God’s.