I recently re-read a selection from Augustine of Hippo’s “On Christian Doctrine” considering truth, eloquence, and prayer in preaching. In Book IV, Chapter 28, he argues that truth is more important than expression. In Chapters 29-30, he stresses the importance of both eloquence and prayer in preaching preparation. Augustine’s sentiments not only have great significance to preaching, but also to other church ministries.
As we build on the foundation of truth, we must aim for the important ingredients of eloquence and prayer. We need to train our church family to be both eloquent/skillful (Ps 33:3) and prayerful (Col 4:2). Ministry that lacks either eloquence or prayer will suffer. Attempting ministry without skill or eloquence is unprepared, meager, distracting, miscommunicated, poor in testimony, and irreverent. Attempting ministry without prayer is weak, fleshly, mere amusement, and empty.
Both of Augustine’s ministry ingredients demand time and discipline in the Christian life. Time and discipline toward eloquence is necessary in study, preparation, and rehearsal to be able to effectively communicate and to serve with excellence and skill. Time and discipline toward prayer is also crucial to the spiritual life of every Christian.
Earlier in Book IV, Chapter 12, Augustine quotes Cicero that the goal of the orator/preacher is to teach, to delight, and to move: “To teach is a necessity, to delight is a beauty, to persuade is a triumph.” These three goals may have some relevance to other ministries in the local church. First, we aim for truth in the local church that it would be communicated, understood, applied, and responded to through heartfelt worship. Second, we aim to “delight the hearers,” because a hearer “must be pleased in order to secure his attention.” This aim of “delighting the hearer” is not tickling ears or mere entertainment. “Delighting the hearer” is the eloquence necessary to communicate truth so it is understood and applied. This concept of “delighting the hearers” could also expand into delighting in the Lord and His saints and the enjoyment found in ministry service and walking in God’s ways. Third, we aim to move and persuade believers towards worship, action, and change. As Augustine said, “a man must be persuaded in order to move him to action.” Pastors and church leaders should aim to teach, to delight, and to persuade as they build up and equip the body of Christ.
All local church ministries should consider Augustine’s preaching goals—to teach, to delight, and to move—which require preparation toward truth, eloquence, and prayer. God-honoring worship is marked by sacrifice, preparation, focus, and reverence. Let us take this challenge to serve truthfully, eloquently, and prayerfully as we teach, delight, and move one another toward love and good deeds.
To read Augustine of Hippo’s “On Christian Doctrine”, go to: