Communication of Truth Through Personality

Phillips Brooks' definition of preaching: communication of truth through personality.

The title of this post is a famous quote by Phillips Brooks, a well-known preacher from the middle 19th century in the United States. It was in a series of lectures at Yale University that he gave this definition of preaching: Preaching is, “communication of truth through personality.” In other words, the person of the preacher is important when it comes to the preaching process.

Preaching Styles

There are a couple of things that this means for me. First of all, it means that there will be a variety of styles of preaching. And none of these are necessarily better than another, as long as the style still presents truth. I was talking with a preacher recently who shared about his seminary professor of preaching. The professor was an excellent communicator, able to hold peoples’ attention. He had a style, too: he always wore a bow tie, memorized Scripture, and was very expressive. Within a short time, classmates where wearing bow ties and imitating the professor in the way he spoke.

This doesn’t always work well. Certainly, we should learn from others about effective communication, but imitating doesn’t always lead to the same results as those experienced by the imitated.

One of my mentors was Peter Wagner., Wagner was one of the founders of what became known as The Church Growth Movement. During his time as a missionary in Bolivia he began a search for what grows a church. He believed it was preaching style. He thought that to be successful, he had to be the Billy Graham of Bolivia. And so, he studied the speech and gestures of that great revival preacher. It didn’t produce the same results as that of Graham, needless to say. And it was that failure that led him to study Church Growth.

Peter Wagner, church growth expert, reflecting on communication of truth through personality.
Peter Wagner

So, communication of truth through personality means, first of all, that I need to focus on my own style. I can learn from others on what is effective communication, to be sure. But I must first focus on who God made me to be, and what that means for my communication.

Preparing Myself

A second thing that the communication of truth through personality means is that i have to pay attention to my spiritual life. I have to learn to draw from God’s great well of truth if I am going to be effective in my preaching. Calvin Miller put this well in his book, Marketplace Preaching. He says in the preface,

“Congregations ought to feel that their leader is a person of God and that the preacher’s words come from a relationship that is constantly renewing itself. Congregations want to hear God’s word from one who walks with Christ. Congregations feel deeply that their pastor must know God.” p. 7

Preparing to preach, then, means that you prepare yourself. You do this through your devotional and prayer life, as well as diligent study.

This is what it means, then, to define preaching as communication of truth through personality. This, too, is part of preparing to preach.

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