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tony plews: storming the citadel of the will

I remember as a new Christian returning to my provincial NZ home town, and finding a church where the Minister was [what seemed to me at the time] an excellent expository preacher – of course, I had never heard that term yet – good biblical explanation, relevant applications, engaging illustrations. But I was confused by the seemingly unresponsive, dull congregation. Why were they not moved and moving?

I think I found the answer a few years later while a student at Laidlaw [then BCNZ], reading some pages during my first ever course related to preaching. I was assigned a slim little paperback on preaching by G. Campbell Morgan [1863-1945], who was known throughout the UK and USA as the Prince of Expositors during the first half of the 20th Century.

One chapter in particular captivated me – “Storming the Citadel of the Will.” The language is quaint at best, and perhaps seems to be overly aggressive and offensive, but I think it points to an essential aspect of effective preaching – that is the need to appeal to our audiences frequently, regularly, maybe unfailingly to ‘do something’ with what they are hearing from us preachers.

Morgan argued that after explaining the meaning of the text in its context, and after applying and illustrating the relevance of the text in and to the world of the hearers, moving them to engage, the preacher needs to call the audience to ‘act’ on what they have heard and are hearing, concluding the sermon with the appropriate appeal. This is no call for a clichéd ‘every head bowed, every eye closed, hands up or come to the front.’

Whether the content and tone of our message is apologetic, explanatory, encouraging, or corrective, our audiences must be appealed to, challenged, encouraged, or implored to believe or not to believe something, to embrace and/or abandon certain attitudes, as well as to think, speak, relate and act differently because of what they have heard.

This is itself a challenge. Whatever we may become convinced of intellectually, or however moved emotionally we may be, we are all, inwardly at least, resistant to engaging our wills to decide to become or do differently. We need cajoling, encouraging, motivating, persuading – not to be left with ambiguity, and undirected openness, to make up our own minds, if and when we please. Sure, this is contrary to the postmodern spirit of the age, but are we not called to be contextual yet counter-cultural?

This is why I am now arguing that the final rhetorical segment of our sermons should be overtly, whether discretely or directly, an attack on human resistance to change, and a call to action on the basis of biblical faith. And that requires us as preachers to “storm the citadel of the will” of our hearers.

Tony is the Executive Director of Langham Partnership New Zealand (LPNZ). He has a long connection with theological education both at home (with many years on the faculty at Laidlaw College) and overseas (with his leadership of “LeaDev-Langham” which is committed to strengthening the work of colleges in various parts of Asia).

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