A man in our church (thanks Mike) loaned me his copy of the book No Easy Day by Mark Owen.  It is the biography of a Navy Seal who was part of the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.  I just started the book last Friday, and then I got bogged down with church (work always gets int he way of my reading) and so I am only about a third of the way through it.  What I’ve read so far is not about the Bin Laden raid but about the author’s experiences with the Navy Seals in training and in combat.

Page 26, though, had a paragraph that stood out, because it sounded like something I’ve said before, but in different context.  The author was detailing how he was scolded for making a mistake in the close quarters combat (CQB) drill at their Mississippi training facility and feared he might get cut from the Seal training.

His trainer told him that he had made the right move, but it wasn’t textbook.  He went on to tell him,

But here, we want textbook CQB and we want the verbage (sic) we asked for.  If you are lucky to complete this training and go to an assault  squadron on the second deck, trust me, you won’t be doing basic CQB.  But here, under pressure, you need to prove to us that you can do even the most basic CQB.

I’ve never done anything close to combat, but I understand the instructor so well.  I have said this almost exact same thing in the context of preaching.  As a preacher, I have my own style that has developed over the years and I have my way of doing things that I am comfortable with.  Sometimes younger (or, inexperienced, because they are not always young) preachers want to model their favorite preachers and go all creative and stylistic in their preaching but it fails to connect because they haven’t grasped the basics yet.  Before a preacher can be creative and adaptive he or she must demonstrate a mastery of the basics.  Bryan Chappell and Haddon Robinson must be studied, learned, and mastered before you can try to do your best Mark Driscoll, Chuck Swindoll, Calvin Miller, or Rob Bell imitation. 

I am all for creativity in preaching and try to do it as often as possible but there is no substitute for analyzing a text, doing your homework in the languages, devising a main point, fallen world condition, form for the sermon, writing transition sentences, and so forth.  Maybe I”m just turning into an old man but a lot of what I see passing for creativity is just sloppy sermonics that would earn an F if I were grading it.


  1. Great lesson. I can always tell when someone has wrestled with the text. It shows up somewhere in their sermon. I think we all begin in our art imitating some master, but eventually imitation needs to give way to find our own voice.

    In the movie “Ray” a record producer tells a young Ray Charles, “You sound like Sam Cooke or Nat King Cole. We don’t need another one of those guys. We need to hear what Ray Charles sounds like.”

    Same with preachers or writers. 🙂

    • i absolutely agree. i can only be me, and not someone else. i think it was phillips brooks who said, “preaching is truth through personality.”

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