Sometime preachers are told, “Preach to the children.” The idea is that if you speak in a way children can understand then everyone will understand.
This is good advice, but I’d like to add something. What if we didn’t only preach to the children but we also preached like a child?
This is the advice Samuel Miller gave his students at old Princeton. He thought that if you wanted to find “the most perfect specimen” of preaching style, you should look to children.
In a book about Miller’s pastoral theology, James M. Garretson gives us this quote by Miller that explains the thought:
“If we could suppose a little child sufficiently intelligent and forcible, to get up and tell his story, with all the unaffected ease and gracefulness of children; without a thought of himself, but supremely intent on making himself understood, and pouring out the matter which he had to deliver with his whole heart, without any flourish or effort, we should have, as to this point, the most perfect specimen.”
The advice that says preach to the children wants the preacher to be more clear. Samuel Miller’s advice to preach like a child includes clarity but goes further. It goes deeper too since it asks the preacher to pay attention not only to his words but also to his heart.
Of course, we don’t want childish preaching or preachers. And kids have plenty of speaking faults: too much detail, a lack of clear distinctions, a heart too easily deceived.
But, as Garretson summarizes, what children have, which “adults must apply themselves to attain”, is simplicity that is unpretentious and eloquence that is unaffected.
That’s what it means to preach like a child.
For more of Samuel Miller’s pastoral theology, read An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office by James M. Garretson.