Orley M. Berg was associate Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference when he wrote this article.

A reat hazard in preaching is that the one to deliver the message may become self-sufficient, feeling that once the sermon is prepared he or she can relax in the assurance that it will accomplish its purpose. The sermon may be well developed with a proper outline, illustrations, and content, but to assume that because of these factors it will arrest the attention and meet the needs of the people is a tragic misconception. Beyond the preparation is the delivery. To be effective in its delivery the sermon must live in the mind and heart of the speaker and be proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We must never depend upon the sermon itself, no matter how masterly the preparation. The best sermon, of itself, may be as dry as the valley of dry bones in the vision of Ezekiel 37. No doubt every preacher has had experiences when his best-prepared sermons have seemed most ineffective. As in Ezekiel's vision, the dry bones need to be clothed with the Holy Spirit. It is this that makes them live.

There are certain assets that one may possess that could be an advantage in his work for the Lord. These would include a good education, a keen intellect, special talents, the ability to speak well, even good looks and a pleasing personality. It is equally true, however, that if these qualities could increase one's usefulness, they may also become his greatest handicaps. The danger is that one will be led to depend on these advantages for success, thus feeling less and less dependent upon the Holy Spirit.

According to the Scriptures there are certain categories of persons who are not going to reach heaven in large numbers. The odds are against them. Jesus put the rich in this category. Not because they are wealthy, but because they permit their wealth to stand between them and their salvation.

Paul declares that "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called" (1 Cor. 1:26). The reason for this is that the wise trust in their own wisdom, the mighty in their own might, the noble in their nobility. This being so, God has chosen the foolish, weak, and base things of the world "that no flesh should glory in his presence" (verse 29).

This is not to discount the importance of a good education. God places no premium on ignorance. This is not to minimize the advantages of special gifts or talents one may possess. These should be improved upon. But it does show up the danger of permitting these to become a substitute for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the life.

Jeremiah declares, "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord" (Jer. 9:23, 24).

Spiritual Leadership

The most important qualification of the one who stands before the people as a leader is his own intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Above all, he must be a spiritual leader, and the message he bears from the pulpit must come from a deep sense of His own unworthiness and a recognition of his dependence upon the Holy Spirit for its effectiveness. Otherwise, no matter how clever the sermon or how personable the speaker or how fluent his delivery, it will be nothing more than dry bones to the hearers.

A man may spend all week working in a bank, handling money and figures, but this of itself does not qualify him to be the treasurer of the church. Another may have a degree from the conservatory of music and have a thorough understanding of the musical art, but this alone will not qualify that person to lead the church choir or to be the church soloist. Even so, another may be very successful in his business or professional career, and understand the processes of leadership and management, but all of this of itself will not qualify that person to be the local elder of the church.

Ellen White says: "The first thing to be learned by all who would become workers together with God is the lesson of self-distrust; then they are prepared to have imparted to them the character of Christ." -The Desire of Ages, p. 250.

The question for us is not how great are our talents or gifts or formal training, but how thoroughly we are permitting what we have to be used to glorify God? The sincere church leader will seek ever to improve his or her knowledge and abilities, but these will never serve as a substitute for consecration. The one supreme need is very well expressed in the promise: "There is no limit to the usefulness of one who, by putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart, and lives a life wholly consecrated to God ." Ibid., pp. 250, 251.

If this is our experience, our preaching will be more than dry bones to our hearers. "Breath came into them, and they lived" (Eze. 37:10).

Orley M. Berg worked at the General Conference as Associate Editor of Ministry when he wrote this article.