Puritan Tips on Preaching & Teaching

April 21, 2011

In my reading for a class I came across some good advice on preaching and using notes from Cotton Mather. Since last week was senior preaching week in chapel, and since many of the people I know (myself included) are in ministry or seminary, this seems a good reminder as we speak and teach:

“If you must have your notes before you in your preaching… yet let there be with you a distinction between the neat using of notes, and the dull reading of them. Keep up the air and life of speaking, and put not off your hearers with an heavy reading to them. How can you demand of them to remember much of what you bring to them; when you remember nothing of it yourself?… Let your notes be little other than a quiver, on which you may cast your eye now and then, to see what arrow is to be next fetch’d from thence; and then, with your eye as much as may be on them whom you speak to, let it be shot away, with a vivacity becoming one in earnest, for to have the truths well entertained with auditory.”  

(Cotton Mather, Manuductio ad Ministerium, emphasis mine) 

 The line that particularly struck me most was in the middle: “How can you demand of them to remember much of what you bring to them; when you remember nothing of it yourself?” I find that a fitting and convicting reminder to myself whenever I have the opportunity to teach/preach. I first must be sure that I know what I am teaching/preaching about so that I can present it to those who are listening. And, as you surely know if you’ve ever taught on something before,  God has a way of always making sure that you have learned well whatever it is you are teaching about. Sometimes he makes you work through it extensively before you teach, and other times he uses your teaching to remind you that you still haven’t mastered it yet. It seems best to be diligent to learn well, commit to memory, and take to heart what you are teaching on first so that you can teach/preach by example and not only by word.

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