In Saving Eutychus, Gary Millar and Phil Campbell aim to help preachers “preach in a way that is faithful to the Scripture without being dull” (26). They accomplish this goal by giving the reader several tools to help them communicate the message of a biblical text in a clear and engaging manner. From the outset, they distinguish between being engaging and creative and being cunning and manipulative. The goal of the preacher is be “so truth-driven that we wouldn’t dream of twisting the message to suit our own ends” (28). However, the preacher must try to present the truth in such a way as to maximize its impact (engaging), in a way that connects with people at a deep level. This kind of preaching, they argue, will change the hearts of the people as it clearly communicates the power for change- God’s Word. Millar and Campbell explain ways to clearly communicate God’s Word through giving instruction concerning finding the “bid idea” of the passage, illustrating the obvious, and continually growing in the ability to apply the biblical text. They also give some helpful insight on preaching Christ from the Old Testament, using different aspects of delivery (volume, pace, pitch), and the importance of sermon critique. This book is a simple yet very practical book on preaching.
There are three ideas that I want to “take-away” from Saving Eutychus regarding sermon delivery. They are (1) finding the big idea and allowing it to shape everything I say, (2) the practice of natural scripting finding, and (3) using repetition. With regards to finding the big idea, I found their quote from Bryan Chapell to be most convincing, “without a clear purpose, listeners have no reason to listen…all good communication requires a theme. If the preacher doesn’t provide it, listeners will instinctively try to find a unifying thought” (64). Therefore, finding and sticking to the “big idea” makes it much easier for listeners to grasp the meaning of the text. The “big idea” is defined as the “freshly-squeezed essence of the passage” or the “meaning or vibe” of the passage. It is not only imperative that the preacher find it, but that he sticks to it. We must allow it to shape everything we say. By doing this- we aim at clarity, avoid sidetracks, and prevent distraction, all with the goal of communicating the essence of the passage as clearly as possible. “Clarity comes from what you leave out…and complexity from over inclusion” (50). Resolved to find the big idea of the passage I preach, and allow it to shape everything I say.
Second, this book has encouraged me to implement what Millar and Campbell call natural scripting. In general, scripting a sermon enables the preacher to plan, analyze, and control what he intends to say and how to say it. Some may argue that this inhibits the power and leading of the Spirit- but could He not lead and guide through this process as well? But in addition to general scripting, Millar and Campbell advocate for natural scripting- where the preachers write out his sermon as he would speak it. I tried this for the first time with the last sermon I preached, and I found it to be immensely helpful in thinking through how to introduce ideas, explain points, give illustrations, offer application, and transition to other parts of the sermon. It also helped me make sure that I was expressing myself in a way that was accessible and clear. This is what Paul prays for (clarity) in Col. 3:3-4, “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison- that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” I believe the process of natural scripting and practicing aloud by reading from the script is one of the primary ways I can aim at clarity in my preaching.
Millar and Campbell give ten tips for being clearer, the most helpful of which I want to record here as a resource to return to. I need to make sure to incorporate all of these as preach: (1) The more you say, the less people will remember, (2) Make the big idea shape everything you say, (3) Choose the shortest, most ordinary words you can, (4) Use shorter sentences, (5) Repeat myself, (6) Translate narratives into present tense, (7) Illustrate the obvious, and (8) Work toward the text when possible, not from it. I can make sure I am implementing these through the process of scripting and practicing. It would certainly be more difficult to remember all of them in the pulpit!
Finally, Millar and Campbell’s instruction to utilize repetition was very helpful for me. They write, “when you’re preaching, listeners don’t have the same luxury [as re-reading lines in a book to understand what is being said], and it’s up to you to anticipate where they will need help.” Preachers can offer this help through repetition, regulating the information flow by adding strategic re-phrasing and explanation. I can do this by making sure to emphasize my big idea throughout the sermon and demonstrating how each subordinate point supports the idea, as well as re-phrasing new, important ideas multiple times to aid the listener in grasping what is being said. The goal is to slow the flow of ideas to the point where a listener can easily absorb each one. I need to work on this in my preaching, and as I mentioned above, the most practical way for me to do so is through natural scripting!
In conclusion, I found Saving Eutychus to be a refreshing, extremely practical book on preaching. It was clear, to the point, easy to digest, and served the “big idea” of preaching God’s Word in a way that is faithful but not dull. The book itself was a good model of the kind of preaching it advocates. I would recommend it to any preacher wanting to improve on his ability to communicate God’s Word clearly.