My pastor, John MacArthur, whom I have never seen truly flummoxed in any situation where he was called upon to speak, discusses an affliction that frequently bedevils the rest of us.
by John MacArthur
No preacher likes the feeling of being tongue-tiedespecially when it happens in the pulpit. Those awkward moments when your brain gets stuck in neutral and your mouth continues to rev are the nightmare of every preacher. It can be especially dangerous when everything you say is recorded.
A few years ago some of the guys who work on our radio broadcast put together a taped collection of all my verbal fumbles over the years. They collected about fifteen years' worth of out-takes and strung them together to make an entire sermon of nonsense. It was a painful thing to listen to.
So I have nothing but extreme pity for the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, who suffered from a disability that no preacher deserves. Spooner was a brilliant man who was dean of New College, Oxford, at the turn of the century. Today he is chiefly remembered because he elevated slips of the tongue to an art form. He was particularly prone to one variety of verbal blunder that has been given his name: the spoonerism. A spoonerism is when you transpose syllables or sounds from two or more words, resulting in nonsenseas in "Let me sew you to your sheet."
Spooner's backward eloquence was unsurpassed. Reprimanding a wayward student, he allegedly uttered these immortal words:"You have hissed all my mystery lectures; I saw you fight a liar on the college grounds; in fact, you have tasted the whole worm!"
Once Spooner accidentally referred to the stately Queen Victoria as "our queer old dean."
It's easy to see how this tendency could adversely affect a preaching ministry. Spooner's tendency to transpose sounds occasionally caused him to say the very opposite of what he intended. Once when the Reverend was performing a wedding, he told the bridegroom, "It is kisstomary to cuss the bride."
On another occasion Spooner was preaching on Psalm 23, and he assured his congregation that "Our Lord is a shoving leopard."
When you realize that Spooner's ministry was primarily among students, you have to give him high marks for fortitude.
No communicator wants to mangle the message. But for Christian communicators the need to get the message right is elevated to the height of a sacred duty. Perhaps we can smile and pardon an affliction like William Spooner's, but we certainly cannot tolerate any distortion of divine truth that results from traits such as sloppy thinking, laziness, carelessness, apathy, or indifference. More sinister yet is the tendency to sidestep elements of truth or water down the message because of a desire to please people, a love of worldly praise, or a lack of holy courage.
If anything, the obligation to communicate the truth of the gospel clearly and accurately weighs more heavily on our generation than on those who have gone before us, because our opportunities are so much greater. Luke 12:48 says, "From everyone who has been given much shall much be required."
No previous generation has been blessed with the means of mass communication like ours. A hundred years ago "Christian communication" consisted almost totally of preaching sermons and writing books. The only form of mass communication was the press. It never occurred to men like Charles Spurgeon that the means would exist to transmit live sound and images via satellite to every nation in the world.
Spurgeon was the most listened-to preacher in history by the end of the nineteenth century. He preached to huge crowds in his church. By some estimates, four million people actually heard him preach in person over a remarkable lifetime of ministry.
But today, via radio, Chuck Swindoll preaches to more people than that in a typical week. J. Vernon McGee ("he being dead yet speaketh") has been broadcasting every weekday worldwide for decades. If you count the sermons that are translated and preached in other languages, McGee has undoubtedly preached to more people than any other person in history, and he continues to do so from the grave.
The staff who produce our recordings like to remind me that the sun never sets on our ministry. At any given moment of the day or night, worldwide and around the clock, someone, somewhere is listening to a sermon I preached from our church pulpit. I can't tell you how heavily that responsibility continually weighs on me. I am constantly aware of the obligation to get the message right, to speak it clearly, and to proclaim it with authority and conviction.
New vistas in communications are constantly opening up. At Grace to You we now offer a daily podcast of the radio broadcast. No longer is it necessary to order a cassette tape and wait for delivery. Sermons can now be downloaded instantly from the website. Electronic media now make it possible for material to be searched and scrutinized like never before. Want to know what James Boice said about the doctrine of God? You can find it in an instant online. Wondering whether Spurgeon ever preached on the text of Scripture you're studying? Phil has a website that will answer that question for you in a minute.
Satellite technology, digital sound, high-resolution wide-screen television, and blogs are all changing the way we process information. Other high-tech advances suggest that a hundred years from now, communications will have advanced at least as far beyond today's technology as our world has come since Spurgeon's time. If the Lord delays His return, our great-great grandchildren might have access to forms of communication that we cannot even imagine today.
This is a very exciting age in which to live and minister.
But let's remember Luke 12:48: "From everyone who has been given much shall much be required." We are stewards who will be held accountable for the opportunities the Lord has blessed us with. And if we are honest with ourselves, I think we would have to confess that the church for the most part has simply squandered the rich opportunities modern communication technology has given us. Our generation, with greater means than ever to reach the world with the gospel, is actually losing ground spiritually. The church's influence is apparently diminishing. Our message is becoming confused, and it is confusing. We are not speaking the truth plainly enough for the world to hear the message.
We who have access to the divinely inspired truth of God's Word should be confronting the apathy and foolishness of a society that is addicted to entertainment and ignorant of truth. We should be shouting truth from the rooftops, not adapting our message to the shallow and insipid amusements that have left our society morally and intellectually bankrupt.
Living in an age that has abandoned the quest for truth, the church cannot afford to be vacillating. We minister to people in desperate need of a word from the Lord, and we cannot soft-pedal our message or extenuate the gospel. If we make friends with the world, we set ourselves at enmity with God. If we trust worldly devices, we automatically relinquish the power of the Holy Spirit.
By all means, let's make the most of the opportunities modern technology affords us. But in the midst of it all, remember that we ought to be less concerned with what is fashionable more concerned with what is true. Rather than adapting our message to suit the new media, let's utilize the media to present the unadulterated message as clearly, as accurately, and as fully as possible. If we're faithful in that, the soil God has prepared will bear fruit. His Word will not return void.