Margaret McFarland, professor of child psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and co-founder and director of the Arsenal Family and Children’s Center in Pittsburgh, served as a consultant for the television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
She believed that when a teacher shows enthusiasm for a topic, the student catches that enthusiasm no matter how young or old that student might be. Show them what you love, and they’ll want to get it.
A biography of Fred Rogers recounts the time that McFarland wanted to expose children at the Arsenal Center to the work of a sculptor. She offered some advice to the sculptor.
“I don’t want you to teach sculpting. All I want you to do is to love clay in front of the children,” she said.
A magazine article reports:
And that’s what he did. He came once a week for a whole term, sat with the four- and five-year-olds as they played, and he ‘loved’ his clay in front of them. The children caught his enthusiasm for it, and that’s what mattered. Like most good things, teaching has to do with honesty.
Loving God and the Gospel
McFarland’s advice is good for preachers too.
Preachers have a lot of work to do. They must understand the text on its own terms, as well as its place within Scripture. They must be able to express the big idea and purpose of that text, and apply that idea to the preacher’s own life. The preacher must then convey that idea in a way that relates to the lives of the listeners, all while pointing to Jesus. Preaching is a glorious, demanding task.
It’s possible to do all of that and miss our main task: to love God in front of our audience. When we exult in God and delight in him in front of others, people catch that no matter who they might be.
D.A. Carson said something similar:
If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel…
Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow.
Preacher: preach the text, but don’t stop there. Enjoy God and the gospel. Delight in Jesus as you preach. Not only will you enjoy preaching more, but your preaching will help your people capture that same delight in the Triune God and what he’s done for us.
If a sculptor can love clay in front of others, a preacher ought to be able to delight in God in front of others too. In fact, it’s a good way of expressing what a preacher ought to do. Preach the Word, and as you do, publicly love God in front of your people.