COMMUNICATING THROUGH REPETITION
Dr. Jack Hyles once said that his job as pastor was to remind his people more than it was to instruct his people. Dr. James Stewart, of Scotland, once said, “The curse of the Scottish ministry is its unwillingness to be repetitious of the obvious.
In I Corinthians 4:17, Paul sent Timothy to Corinth to put in remembrance some things. In I Timothy 4:6 he says, “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ.” II Timothy 2:14, “Of these things put them in remembrance.” II Peter 1:12, “I will therefore put you in remembrance.” Peter states in II Peter 3:1, “I stir up your pure mind by way of remembrance.”
Everyone needs a pastor who is willing to do two things. One is too, with simplicity, be repetitious with the obvious and the second is to be willing to tell his people what he will not tell himself. I am an imperfect man preaching a perfect book to imperfect people, attempting to perfect them with that perfect book, the Bible.
In II Peter 1:12, Peter is saying that he is going to cause those to whom he is preaching to remember “these things.” In verse thirteen, Peter says to those people that he will even stir them up about “these things.” In verse fifteen, Peter is saying he will be so diligent about this that, after he is deceased, there will be others he has trained who will continue to remind them of “these things.”
Apparently, God’s people do not need a new revelation; they need to simply be reminded of what they already know. We do not need the new as much as we need to be reminded of the old. There is a doctrine of repetition that is vital for God’s men to effectively reach and then teach God’s people. Dr. Hyles was a master at this. How many preachers can you recall a sermon they preached years later? Dr. Hyles messages were framed around repetition. He did not fear the critics who readily criticized his simplistic sermons, but he did fear that his people would just learn truth without absorbing the truth.
Famed basketball Coach John Wooden said, “The importance of repetition until automaticity cannot be overstated. Repetition is the key to learning.”
The ability to be repetitious and have a lack of fear about being repetitious was a large factor in the teaching and preaching of Brother Hyles. Educators call it the “spiral effect.” Everything in the field of English is a spiral effect, with its foundation being the alphabet. Everything in Mathematics education is a spiral effect, with its foundation being numerical. The same is true for Christian growth. It is time for preachers to stop attempting to impress the congregation and start putting the jelly on the bottom shelf so it becomes reachable.
I have studied the teaching and preaching of Dr. Jack Hyles for years. He was meticulous with everything he did, but he was especially meticulous when can to his teaching or preaching. He would spend hours on just one sentence. He was not a linguist, but I believe he knew the consequences of words and their proper placement in the written word and the spoken word better than most.
God allowed me to publish THE BAPTIST MAGAZINE for over a decade and it was a challenge as well as a blessing. When I began to push for subscriptions I would let the folks know in our meetings across the nation that the magazine was a bi-monthly publication. I had been traveling with Dr. Hyles for a month and after my announcement about the magazine, on our way back to the motel, out of the blue, he said, “Bi-monthly? Bi-monthly? That could be every other month or twice a month.” He was a stickler for accuracy. I have always admired his teaching and preaching, which caused me to pay very close attention and to study him carefully. He was a master in his utilization of the tool of accuracy and repetition.
1. Identify the essentials – A good basketball coach knows that he must repeat drills every practice. Dr. Hyles had a short list of twenty sermon topics he repeated over and over again. Evangelist Jim Lyons told me that Brother Hyles studied people’s actions and reactions like no one he has ever known. In doing so he made a science of what God’s people were in need of in their lives. As he counseled he would identify trends and through his Bible studies he came up with an apothecary or list of spiritual medicines to prescribe as answers. No one studied his people like Dr. Hyles and no one looked for spiritual solutions like he did. He was in a constant quest for answers in the Scriptures.
He taught me to review the previous years themes taught in our Sunday schools, Sunday morning sermons, Sunday night sermons, and Wednesday night Bible studies. He taught me to check and see if I had offered a balanced diet of spiritual truths. Did I neglect some basic area? Did I over emphasize something to the neglect of another truth?
It was interesting that he would never divulge exactly what those twenty sermon themes were, but he would always say, “Come up with your own!” The truth is, there needs to be some thought put into major areas of concern for our people. We are accountable to God for their spiritual growth. A balanced diet is the responsibility of the pastor and repetition is not a bad tool!
Today we have many young leaders who are pushing a certain style of preaching over "topical" preaching. 42 years ago all I heard was, "It must be "Biblical preaching"?" The "expository" style has come on the scene for several reasons; the inability to tackle issues, the lack of knowledge of the members' needs, the fear of being ostracized by preacher friends, the status quo, and in most cases just plain laziness.
2. Do no muddy the waters with concepts and theories - People will chase rabbits too. They will take their minds off the important for that which is more exciting. If is far more important to focus on the tasks at hand and develop repetition as being second nature in the completion of those tasks. Too many pastors would prefer accolades to accomplishments. To accomplish tasks takes work and too many of us would rather stay in the study than to take to the streets with the cause of Christ. Intellectuals, who do not perform and produce, are useless to the cause of Christ. I fear we are too enamored with spiritual intellectualism in the “blogosphere” and fail to obey the Great Commission in our own hemisphere.
3. Learn to be repetitious without being the same – The key is saying the same things in different ways. Dr. Hyles could say the same thing over and over again, but it never sounded the same. Chicken is good, and mama knew how to cook it in enough ways to where I never tired of it. There was always a different view of the same topic with Brother Hyles. It was fresh and vibrant by the time it left the lips of Dr. Hyles. In fact, I never tired of hearing the same sermon over and over by him. It may have been one of the twenty topics on Dr. Hyles’ list, but I never thought of it in that way when I heard him teach or preach. I just knew that he wanted to help my family and me. He never sounded bored with himself or his topic. He could teach or preach the same subject a hundred times, but it was just as fresh as the first time he preached it.
4. Always be looking for new recipes for presenting the same truth – As prepared as Dr. Hyles was even up until the last minute before he rose to stand behind the pulpit he was looking for something fresh to begin within his introduction. He would rewrite outlines to keep them fresh. He wanted to have a fresh perspective to an old truth. Why? It was simple. He knew that if he did not get his own attention, he would never gain the attention of those in the pews. He was obsessed with successfully transferring truth from the pulpit to the pew. He was a man who truly lived for others. It was a matter of life and death to him. He would use humor to get back the folks attention and to soften the blow of truth that would be hard for them to swallow.
5. Don’t worry about the depth of the content – The truth is you should worry about the understanding to the people of a truth. No preacher who is worth his salt should attempt to impress, but rather his desire should be to leave a practical aspect to the truth at hand. If the people cannot comprehend what you are attempting to get across, how in the world can they live it and embrace it. Repetition is an excellent method to develop recall among God’s people of what they have heard. It is not depth, but comprehension of truth that transforms. If you lose the people and overwhelm them with depth, then nothing will be accomplished for Christ.
6. Never take simple for granted – Basics are essential to growth. Without knowledge, God’s people perish. Without foundations no solid growth can occur. The better the foundation, the bigger the building. Simplicity is the crown jewel of learning. Profundity is a misnomer and has caused more heresy in church history than any other element of education. There is a reason why the Scripture says that the common man heard Christ gladly. Peter and those other fishermen were not intrigued with deep knowledge, but rather with Christ who cared for their souls and could communicate such. Do not fall prey to the mistake made by so many that ends up worshipping the mind.
7. Whatever God repeats often in His Word is obviously something we should repeat often in our preaching – Repetition is not wrong, it is “vain repetition” that is of no value. Dr. Hyles would often repeat his precept upon precept thoughts in sermons and have the congregation repeat with him those precepts out loud. This helps to retain truths and it is definitely not “vain.” If God repeated truths, then His men should learn to do the same. Anyone who sat under Dr. Hyles’ teaching and preaching, they never found themselves bored. Your mind did not wander because repetition kept you focused. He brought with these truths excitement and refreshment. He never lived off of past victories. His victories were always current and fresh. When he did revisit the past you felt like it was the first time you had heard it. All of God’s men must learn how to make repetition exciting and viable.
8. If we said less about what God does not say, and more about what He does say, we would be much less likely to stray from the truth – The anchor of truth brings with it security and stabilization. The more repetition of what God says, the deeper the taproot and stronger the tree. There is too much talk of what we think God said and not enough talk about what we know God says in His Word. All of the conjecture and straying from truth is creating confusion and spiritual instability. To repeatedly say the obvious is not bad. It ingrains and deepens truth in our souls. The critics accused Dr. Hyles of being shallow and nothing could be further from the truth. I was always amazed at his depth of Biblical knowledge, but more than that his ability to make it applicable. He never left his congregation in the dust of rationalism at the expense of pragmatism.
9. Repeat through review in every sermon – Dr. Hyles was the “liege” of review within the context of a single sermon. This constant hammering at the same nail was his forte. He was successful because of the retention of truth in his audience and not because of his expert delivery. I knew several faithful members of First Baptist Church who came just to hear Dr. Hyles teach and preach. They did not like him, nor did they agree with him, but he was intriguing to listen too.
A lawyer, who attended FBC, told me he wanted to learn how, in his court cases, to close his final arguments to the jury more eloquently. He was advised by an attorney friend to attend FBC and observe and listen to Dr. Hyles speak. He took the advice of his friend and for several months attended the services. The young man ended up walking the aisle receiving Christ as his Saviour. Dr. Hyles’ constant hammering and his allegiance to review broke through this young lawyer’s heart.
10. If a thought is worth teaching, it is worth repeating – To approach a matter from the left, the right, the north, and the south will leave that thought of truth indelibly ingrained in the mind of the listener. On their own, the truths of Scripture are powerful, spirit-filled words. If you have a man who has a passion to spread that truth, with the ability to visit and re-visit that thought over and over again, then there is no telling what could happen for the cause of Christ. The sad part is how effectively the world uses repetition. It is the secret that is used in the world of advertising to keep a brand or product in the forefront of consumer’s minds. People buy things they do not need simply because it is constantly put in front of them until they break down and buy.
Repetition and humility are co-joined twins. Humble men are willing to repeat the same thought over and over again because they are not interested in the originality of thoughts but the effectiveness of them. The end goal is not how many truths they can teach, but how often they can drill important truths into the minds and hearts of their people. Prideful men are more interested in how much information they can teach. They are not interested in changing the lives of their people as much as they are in looking smart to them.
A great basketball coach once said, “The simplest skills are the ones we practice the most because they are the foundation of all others.” That was Dr. Hyles. He kept it simple and he repeated the simple and obvious often. To him, it was not how smart his people thought he was that mattered, but how well they could live the basics of the Christian life.
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