West London Alliance Church

Clothing One's Thoughts

I have just finished reading a fascinating book on preaching called Sacred Rhetoric or A Course of Lectures on Preaching. The book is comprised of chapters which correspond with lectures delivered by D. L. Dabney. Dabney, a controversial figure, delivered these lectures over the course of his teaching career.

There are many provoking and fascinating ideas presented in this book. One of them pertained to exactly what I am doing at the moment: writing. Specifically, the issues is one of the preacher and his writing. This is what Dabney had to say:

It remains that I shall state the means by which studies extempore [speaking in the spur of the moment with little or no use of notes] ability is to be acquired. The first upon which I insist is careful writing. The abundant and painstaking use of the pen is necessary to give you correctness, perspicuity and elegance of language, and to make these easy to you. No man ever learns to compose a sermon at his desk in rhetorical language save by speaking extempore under the rhetorical impulse; so no man ever learns to speak well extempore save by learning to write well. I have already said that the use of this writing is not to prepare words in the closet to be delivered in the pulpit, but to prepare the mind for clothing its thoughts with right words without premeditation of language. This species of training cannot be omitted if you would speak well extempore.

According to Dabney, writing is an essential practice for a preacher. The suggestion that writing “prepares the mind for clothing its thoughts” is the line that resonated with me. And he’s not the only one to think so. John Piper, author of over 50 books and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, is a man who has had an incredible impact on my life. He, also, believes writing is important for preachers and pastors. In a blog post at Desiring God titled “6 Reasons Pastors Should Blog,” Piper provides a list conveying why blogging is beneficial. The first point speaks to the importance of writing for thinking well.

Piper writes, “Pastors should blog…to write. If you’re a pastor, you probably already know the value writing has for thinking. Through writing, you delve into new ideas and new insights. If you strive to write well, you will at the same time be striving to think well. Then when you share new ideas and new insights, readers can come along with you wherever your good writing and good thinking bring you.”

He continues the article by listing more reasons a pastor should write via a blog. Here is a paraphrased version of that list:

2. …to teach. Here is where a pastor has an outlet for whatever he didn’t get to say on Sunday…And more than just a catch-all for sermon spill-over, a blog is a perfect place for those 30-second nuggets of truth that come in your devotions or while you’re reading the newspaper. You may never write a full-fledged article about these brief insights or preach a whole sermon, but via your blog, your people can still learn from them just like you did.

3. …to recommend. With every counseling session or after-service conversation, a pastor is recommending something. Sometimes it’s a book or a charity. Maybe it’s a bed-and-breakfast for that couple he can tell really needs to get away. And sometimes it’s simply Jesus.

4. …to interact. There are a lot of ways for a pastor to keep his finger on the pulse of his people. A blog is by no means necessary in this regard. However, it does add a helpful new way to stay abreast of people’s opinions and questions.

5. …to develop an eye for what is meaningful. It nurtures a habit of looking for insight and wisdom and value in every situation, no matter how mundane.

6. …to be known. This is where I see the greatest advantage for blogging pastors. Your people hear you teach a lot; it’s probably the main way that most of them know you. You preach on Sundays, teach on Wednesdays, give messages at weddings, funerals, youth events, retreats, etc. This is good—it’s your job. But it’s not all you are … Sometimes your people need to look in—not all the way in, and not into every room—but your people need some access to you as a person. A blog is one way to help them.

I have found blogging beneficial in my own life, both before I was a pastor and now. I have several years of blogging at The Oak Log which you can find here if you want to read some more of my musings. Proceed at your own risk. Here are a few more reasons that writing and blogging are helpful:

  1. Journaling – many people have forwarded the many benefits of journaling. I think these people are likely right, and blogs are a form of journaling.
  2. Remembering – I have used blogging as a way to remember things from books, sermons, and life in general that I think are important. If I didn’t write these things down, they’d be long forgotten.
  3. Commitment – it takes an extra level of commitment to put things down on paper. I found this helped me cement and solidify convictions, particularly ideas and beliefs that are controversial.
  4. Edification – I have had many people tell me, by the grace of God, they have been helped by things I have written in a blog or book review. And I know I have appreciated and been helped by the writing of others, whether books or blogs.

Whether you’re a preacher or not, and whether it’s on a blog or in a journal or on a lone piece of paper, consider finding a way to incorporate writing into your life. I think you will find plenty of benefits for yourself and for others. At the very least, it may help you to sharpen your thinking. And if you’re like me, you need all the help you can get.

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