In seminary, John Piper got a C– in one of his preaching classes. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true, and he talked about it a few years back when he was asked where and how he learned to preach. Here’s what he said.
Watching my dad when I was six, eight, ten, twelve. Watching how not to do it in lots of places. Being unable to speak from grade five to my sophomore year in college — unable to speak in front of a group.
God Shut My Mouth
I think I was learning to preach during that time, because I was so hurt, so wounded, so discouraged, so desperate that I had to go way down into God, way into Scripture, and way into pain, and God was making a preacher. He was shutting my mouth. You don’t become an effective preacher by becoming a loquacious and effective communicator at age sixteen. You become a communicator, a clever communicator. But you don’t become a preacher of the holy things of God. So that was a piece.
I got the lowest grade in seminary in my preaching class. I got a C–, I think, in James Dane’s preaching class at Fuller Seminary. We never agreed on anything except the principle that every sermon should have one point. He said that over and over again. So, I made a terrible grade there. But I think the way I became a preacher was by being passionately thrilled by what I was seeing in the Bible in seminary — passionately thrilled. Philippians began to open to me, Galatians opened to me, Romans opened to me, the Sermon on the Mount opened to me in classes on exegesis. Not homiletics, but exegesis. Everything in me was feeling, I want to say this to somebody. I want to find a way to say this, because this is awesome. This is incredible.
Blown Away by the Bible
Some preachers today go everywhere but the Bible to find something interesting or something scintillating and passionate. I don’t get it. I don’t get that at all, because I have to work hard to leave the Bible and go somewhere to find an illustration because everything here is just blowing me away. And it is that sense of being blown away by what is here — by the God that is here and the Christ that is here and the gospel that is here and the Spirit that is here and the life that is here — that has got to get out. That has got to get out.
And then, I suppose, how it gets out — I don’t know what that is. That is just the way I am wired — that I would say it a certain way — and then it is owing to me being a literature major, you know. That affects your language a little bit and, goodness, a thousand things go into your life, and nobody can copy anybody else. And I don’t know — God makes us who we are, and I don’t think there is much you can do to become a preacher except know your Bible and be unbelievably excited about what is there and love people a lot. That is, you want to make the connection with people and what is there.