This is a short excerpt of an essay by Joseph H. Dampier, a native Canadian who was nearing the end of a seven-year ministry with First Christian Church in McKeesport, Pa., when he wrote this. Later in 1941, Dampier began serving with First Church in Johnson City, Tenn. During his ministry there, he was president of the 1951 North American Christian Convention. In 1958, Dampier became provost of Milligan College. In 1965, he began a four-year stint as dean of Emmanuel School of Religion, before serving ESR as professor of Christian ministries from 1969 to 1982. Joseph Dampier died in 1984.
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This Foolishness of Preaching:
Why Do Preachers Want Crowds?
January 4, 1941; p. 6
By Joseph H. Dampier
The preacher wants a crowd, but why does he? Has he an aim for them? Does he know what he wants and is his goal so defined that he can make a tool of his sermon to accomplish his goal?
We have so long listened to prattle about the sermon being a work of art that we have come to believe it. The sermon should not be a work of art; it should be a tool and the art should be the work it accomplishes. Tools are made to do a job. Art is to be admired and appreciated. No matter how much the tool is admired, it is for the scrap heap if it does not lend itself to the uses for which it was designed.
If the preacher is the man of high ethical and moral sense he claims to be, and if he is the man of good common sense that every one hopes he is, he will never want a crowd for the sake of having a crowd. In fact, he will not want a crowd until he has decided just why he wants it. Then he can make the sermon what it was intended to be—a well-chosen means of accomplishing a definite end.
The end in view will not be to get something off his chest. He will not tell them just for the sake of having them told. He will not seek to entertain or amuse in the hope of getting them back next time. He will aim to do something this time so that there will be no regret if there is no next time.
This kind of preaching will eliminate many of the preachers’ best sermons; that is, it will eliminate many of the sermons that get the most compliments at the door of the church. It will also eliminate many of the sermons that are best for some other occasion. It will mean that, when a crowd comes to hear, if the preacher is truly successful, they will go away so different that they never will be the same again.
The apostles had this technique of preaching. On the day of Pentecost, Peter had a definite goal. He wanted the Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah, repent of sin and be baptized. A study of his sermon will show it a well-calculated effort to reach that goal.
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Download a PDF of the entire essay: CS_Dampier_1941