Not in clerverniss of speech...

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For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. - 1 Corinthians 1:17

Formal recitation is to liturgy as reading manuscripts is to preaching. Both are helpful, particularly for beginning pastors. Charles Simeon read his manuscripts for the first five years or so. But at some point, a preacher should preach in a way that allows him to speak to his flock and specific sheep on the fly. And this is to depend upon the Holy Spirit to illumine the needs of the day rather than simply the needs of the race or of believers or of his flock annually or monthly.

The pastor who pastors knows how often family members he's heard about in counseling will show up unannounced on a Sunday morning and place themselves under the preaching of the Word. Shall he simply read the sermon he prepared with no thought of them? Is that pastoral? The pastor who pastors knows how often he will see the eyes and posture and faces of the souls in his flock and know...

the man is back in adultery that week; the woman is rebellious against her husband again; the student is thinking of abandoning the Lord and His Church for an unbelieving woman he's started dating and been warned against by his college pastor; and so on.

Shall the pastor stick to his manuscript while prattling about how it's not his own responsibility to apply the Word and convict the souls--that's God's job? Has God not called and ordained and set apart this man known as the pastor to shepherd his (but really His) flock, and shall that man not make every effort to be helpful? The pastor who thinks it's abuse of the pulpit to form his words preaching the Word in such a way as to take into account that, for instance, he's in Athens; he's speaking to a marriage on the verge of divorce--he sees it in their eyes; he's preaching to a man who is on the edge of apostasy--he's been counseling the man and knows he's in play; that man is not a pastor. He's a hireling milking what he hopes is a sinecure.

The words and sentences of church officers should be helpful; and not simply cosmically, but also locally and in a timely way. Prayers of confession, explanations of the Sacraments, encouragements and warnings at the Table, contextualizing statements during the bride's vow explaining to the sanctuary containing many pagans and Reformed Evangelicals why she's vowing to "obey" her husband, benedictions chosen for the people's courage after the conclusion of the sermon, pastoral prayers after Doug Wilson's visit shook the community and the formal liturgical recitation for that Lord's Day service is oblivious, stuff like that.

Words, sermons, litanies, collects, explanations of vows, fencings of the Lord's Table, and homilies at weddings should all be contextualized, and not simply for English-speakers (so one chooses a book of united prayer that's in English), but also for American English speakers and Midwest American English speakers and Midwest university community American English speakers, and Protestant and Reformed and Evangelical university community Midwest American English speakers; and Dick and Jane fighting again and on the edge of despair this morning Protestant and Reformed and Evangelical university community Midwest American English speakers. You get my drift?

Formal repetition of liturgy can be a fine place to hide when one doesn't want to shepherd his flock. Formal reading of a sermon can be a fine place to hide when one doesn't want to shepherd his flock.

And finally, rote repetition of books of united prayer as the liturgy, and reading of manuscripts as the sermon, can be the ways a pastor not wanting to look to the Holy Spirit for inspiration and application covers up his lovelessness, sloth, or rather his spiritual decline or death. How often we pastors resort to rote repetition long after it has become vain repetition because we have nothing to say ourselves to our own flock.

Can you imagine what the Apostle Paul's letters would have been if he'd simply copied into the letter some good prayer from the five-hundred year old Hebrew forms book; if he'd studied the rabbinical insights and inserted a few shaggy dog stories of hymn lyrics for affect? If he'd had a principle of avoiding naming anyone or being specifically helpful? There are explosions of helpfulness all over the Apostle Paul's letters and prayers. Is this one more place where we hide our sloth and fear behind the statement, "That was Paul. You are not Paul. That was Scripture and the Holy Spirit was inspiring him. You and I are not Scripture and the Holy Spirit is not inspiring you or me."

Poor pastor. Poor church.

A true shepherd will often have something pastorally helpful to say because of his hard work the previous week and day and hour, and also because the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding him--just as in court (Mark 13:11). Do we all remember that Calvin himself refers to the preaching of the Word as "the Word of God" to the people? Sounds blasphemous to those of us wasting our lives reacting against Pentecostalism.

A pastor is set apart to be helpful in his prayers, Scripture selections, words before and after the Sacraments, and of course his sermons.