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john catmur: come and watch me burn

Spirituality might well be a frequent topic of conversation today – but when it comes to the preacher, it is one of the hardest issues to master. How significant is the state of the preacher’s walk with God when it comes to measuring the impact of their sermons?

This issue isn’t discussed much because it doesn’t quite fit as a natural component in the ‘art’ of preaching. It tends to remain assumed and so it can receive very little attention. It thus becomes an opaque issue, lurking uncomfortably in the background, unaddressed. However it is my conviction that the preacher’s spiritual state is utterly crucial for the effective ministry of the Word.

Firstly, spiritual vigour has an impact on the preparation process. We talk about spending time praying for the message the Spirit wants to give to our audience, but we talk less about the message he wants to give us as the preacher. If we experience personally the reality of the message then we will speak with greater spiritual authority. A.W. Tozer speaks about such a preacher in this way: “they have been in the presence of God and they report what they see there” (Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Authentic, 2004) p30).

Secondly, our spiritual vigour has an impact on the delivery. On the outside it has a drastic effect on our communication abilities, with fresh passion, flair and authoritative tones. People know when we really believe what we are preaching and it opens their ears and hearts. Then, on the inside, it has a drastic effect on our ability to deliver a ‘living’ word as the channels are cleared so that we can preach with a prophetic edge. We discover that Christ can speak specifically through us to a specific people at a specific time.

I’m tempted to go as far as saying that the impact of our preaching will be equal only to the vigour of our spiritual life. The only factor that makes me hesitate from declaring this universally is God’s sovereign power, which acts over and above the uncertainties of human disposition.

I wonder whether sometimes, in post-modern cynical New Zealand, we get so concerned with creativity, sophistication and methodology that we may forget the most important thing. Poetic sentences are great; nuanced theological insights are important; imaginative structure and delivery do avoid predictability … but clever approaches alone won’t grow the church. It is Christ’s Word to his church through the preacher that will do that.

The challenge for preachers is this: how can we do more to ensure our general spiritual health? Then the challenge specifically for the sermon process is this: how can we live in our sermons and allow their message to substantially convict and change our own behaviours, before the day of delivery? I suggest that doing all our preparation on the Friday before inhibits this.

We need authority and conviction, gained from first-hand experience of God’s riches. John Wesley famously said “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn”. My prayer for my preaching is this: powerfully to me, then powerfully through me.

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John Catmur is on the pastoral team at Auckland Baptist Tabernacle. He arrived there after a journey through a music degree, a government job, a dash of theology in London and a flight across the world.  He likes bicycles and cheese.


  1. Hi John – this was an excellent post. It reminds me of the now antiquated saying that when a preacher has a finger pointing at the congregation he (or she) has four fingers pointing back at himself (or herself). It’s my experience, at least, that I can’t convincingly preach at sermon unless I myself have been challenged, encouraged, provoked and comforted by it myself in the course of preparing it. Indeed, I’ve found when that hasn’t happened, I’ve either changed my topic mid-preparation or I’ve delivered a sermon that I didn’t believe in.

  2. […] our growth as much as our congregations’? Sure – this has been a theme of recent posts from John and George. Is it enough, or do I also have to do my own separate Bible study to be well-nourished? […]

  3. ,.- I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives great information `”.

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