If God can speak through an Ass…
That is how an Irish-Canadian, retired police officer, immigrated to Canada, turned pastor opened a key note address at a preaching conference I was attending when I was a teenager. He was of course speaking of a donkey and alluding to the story of Balaam (cf. Num 22:22-35) and his emphasis was not on the preacher but the hearer.
As only someone with a non-Canadian accent could perhaps get away with he proceeded, “if God can speak through an Ass then when people are preaching the Word of God we need to sit down, shut up and listen! [expecting that the Lord will speak]” His advice that day has stayed with me ever since and has proven to be of great worth.
He wasn’t apologizing for poor preaching methods or encouraging apostasy when preaching; rather he was encouraging the duty on the part of the listener to be attentive to how the Holy Spirit will indeed speak as the Word of God is proclaimed, even when the message is less than dynamic. Preachers have a duty to seek to be as winsome as possible in their delivery while being true to who they are and to the Scriptures. However, if someone, even who possesses great oratory skills, speaks against this word do not receive it (Isa 8:20b- if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them). In that case you have the dilemma as to whether to be polite or to walk out; in either case you should respectfully approach the individual or the leadership of the church with your concern. However, if they are a god fearing man, but perhaps simple or border lining on dull, it is still our Christian duty to respect them and to listen for what the Spirit might be saying to the Church.
Sadly, sometimes instead of being focused, attentive, or expectative during a sermon, we are drawn to think about what is for dinner, or the outfit we plan to wear to such and such an event rather than to devote our undivided attention to the spoken word of God. Sometimes listening to dry, dull, and boring sermons can be painstakingly rough. But would we be willing to be attentive, regardless of how we are feeling, or whether the homiletical style of the preacher is difficult?
The teaching of the Scriptures is a means of grace given for the Church and so we can expect that when it is faithfully preached the Holy Spirit it will indeed use it!
Talk of dull (yet godly) preaching reminds me of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that great preacher of the nineteenth-century. One would have thought that he would have been converted under a master orator, himself going on to earn the title the “prince of preachers,” but such was not the case. “For years he remained under deep conviction of sin until one Sunday morning in January 1850 a snow storm forced him to cut short his intended journey and turn in to a Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester. ‘The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. . . . He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was, ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.’ When he had managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, ‘Young man, you look very miserable.” Spurgeon was not accustomed to being spoken to in a meeting but the man’s simple words struck home. “He continued, ‘and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.’ Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, ‘Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.’ I saw at once the way of salvation . . .”
So the next time you hear a sermon that is less than pleasurable or engaging, so long as it is truthful, listen, and I can assure you that you will be blessed.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
PS– Local chapels also have a duty to seek to put forward the best preachers to nurture the saints and lead sinners to Christ. Indeed we are ever seeking to invite preachers of a high calibre to the chapel, and I myself who preach half the messages, seek to handle and present the Scriptures with great prayer and care, remembering that as a teacher I will be judged more strictly (Jas 3:1).
 The entire Christian life, from salvation to sanctification, provision and beyond are solely of grace (God’s undeserved favour), but there are certain means that give additional blessing to the Church and the believer. Examples of means of grace would include Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, preaching, worship, the Lord’s day, spiritual disciplines, etc. The preaching of God’s word, Scripture says, is “able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim 3:15) and “build you up” in the faith (Acts 20:32).