A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Substance is Necessary... and So is Style

Years ago, as a young pastor, my wife and I were living in North Carolina so that I could attend graduate school (Our whole house was in mourning last Thursday evening, when the Blue Devils knocked themselves out of the tournament.) While there, I also served two small rural parishes filled with wonderful people! Each year both churches had revivals. Now being a Yankee, I was not unfamiliar with revival services; we do have them in the North, but the revival meeting in the South is something of an institution.

In any case, it was my task to schedule the preachers for the revival services. I went on the recommendations of some parishioners and made arrangement. The contrast in preachers could not have been more obvious. The preacher of the one revival had quite substantive things to say. There is no doubt that he had prepared his material thoroughly. There was no shallow reading of the biblical text in his sermon. The problem was that his delivery was so sleepy, that revival was not the word to describe what was taking place that evening. He sure knew what to say, but he didn't know how to say it.

A few weeks later came the revival service for the other congregation I served. The preacher that evening was dynamic and his delivery engaging. He knew how to speak. His tone, voice, and cadence were virtually without blemish. The problem was that in the midst of his captivating style, he said little to nothing of real substance during his entire sermon. His commentary on the biblical text was often tangential, and when he did seem to speak on the text directly, there was no profound insight to stir the heart. He sure knew how to say it, but he didn't know what to say.

The most effective preachers, teachers, speakers, and politicians have mastered the science of substance and the art of style. Anyone who thinks that only one or the other is necessary for effective communication has likely failed in presentation and persuasion. When St. Augustine, was still a Manichaean, he heard Bishop Ambrose preach. Augustine was struck by the substance of the bishop's sermon and the way it was presented. It was both style and substance that eventually convinced that future Bishop of Hippo of the truth of the gospel.

Without attending to substance and style, preachers will find themselves sermonizing to the sleepy, teachers will be educating the shallow, and politicians will be giving concession speeches that no one will remember.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Ha, ha, good ending, and good post, Allan.

I agree that both are important. We need to connect with others. In some settings doing so may look different than in others. And substance, something we all have to keep working at, if we're to have it. Thanks.

Christopher said...

Duke knocked themselves out of the tourney??? You gotta be kidding me.

Allan R. Bevere said...


No I am not kidding. The opponent played a fine game, and I am not attempting to take anything away from them, but with all of Duke's missed freethrows and turnovers, they still only lost by two points, which has been the story of the team all year.

Your opponent can beat you and you can beat yourself at the same time.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

I agree with your post 100%. Balance is key.

Jim Martin said...


Very good post. You express this problem very well. I appreciate your two examples.