Q: When a pastor preaches the Word of God, can we speak of his style and manner of presenting it as “effective ?”
A: The word “effective” requires precision in definition. If the word is taken to mean “producing the desired result,” then describing a pastor’s style of preaching as “effective” would be attributing to the pastor’s personality or ingenuity that which is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. But when the word “effective” is used simply to indicate a pastor’s God-given communication skills or his ability to present the objective truths of the Bible in an interesting and refreshing manner, this is an acceptable use of the word. In this sense, when a person comments that some pastor is an effective preacher he is merely making a legitimate observation about his communication skills.
An analogy from the realm of nature is helpful. Paul employs a gardening illustration to teach the connection between the pastor and the application of God’s Word to people’s lives: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Just as God uses the gardener’s diligence so that His own power and the ingredients of water soil nutrients, and sunlight are applied to the plant and it grows, so God causes faith and its growth in the soul through the Word planted and watered by Paul and Apollos. This illustration does not imply that a caretaker’s excellent gardening abilities causes the seed to sprout and mature into the fruit-bearing plant. It does mean that a gardener’s lack of attention to the garden may cause plants to fail.
Similarly, God uses the diligent pastor as he applies the means of grace (Word and Sacrament) to those souls placed under the pastor’s spiritual supervision. The pastor’s diligence does not cause or assist in the spiritual increase, for only the Holy Spirit can do that. For “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). However, at the opposite juncture, the pastor’s lack of diligence in skillful communicating may be a contributing factor in hindering the Holy Spirit’s work in a person or among a group of people.
At our seminary, the curriculum includes work in homiletics. Homiletics teaches the preparation and delivery of Bible-based sermons. In the preparation of a sermon, the men who are training to be pastors are taught to divide Law and Gospel properly and the importance of applying Scriptural doctrine to real-life situations. The students work on improving their communication skills through practice sermons in the new seminary chapel. Besides this, the memorization of their sermons is also stressed. However, both the seminary students and our synod pastors currently serving parishes clearly recognize that the Spirit of God alone brings about “faith-results” in the heart. This happens only when the Gospel of Jesus Christ touches the heart of the penitent sinner. For only the Gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).