Writings on Christianity

3 Aims of a Preacher: INSTRUCT, DELIGHT, MOVE (Augustine)

3 Aims of a Preacher: INSTRUCT, DELIGHT, MOVE (Augustine)

Why do we preach? What does a preacher hope to accomplish? Augustine, one of the greatest theologians the Christian church has ever known, informs us that the three aims of a preacher are to “instruct, delight, and move.”[1]  These aims work together to persuade a person of the truth.[2]  Saint_Augustine_Portrait

Aim #1: Instruct. To instruct a person is to help them understand the content being communicating, and without understanding, true instruction is absent.[3]  The preacher must labor to understand the passage he proclaims—a task Augustine deals with in De doctrina christiana 1-3—and ensure that his audience understands the content, or else his instruction is “futile.”[4] Augustine warns again assuming that an audience understands a message being delivering just because the preacher understands it.[5]

While treating the first aim, Augustine addresses those who over-spiritualize the concept of learning how to teach.  These individuals claim there is no need for instruction because it is the Holy Spirit who leads and teaches people.  Augustine’s response is brilliant:

Anyone who says that there is no need to give people instruction about what, or how, to teach, if it is the Holy Spirit that makes men teachers, may as well say that there is no need for us to pray, since the Lord says, ‘Your Father knows what you need before you ask him’ (Matt 6:8); or that the apostle Paul should not have instructed Timothy and Titus on what or how to teach others.[6]

If a person is so spiritual that they have no need to be instructed on how to teach, then perhaps they have no need to pray, and perhaps Paul was wrong to instruct Timothy and Titus in the Pastoral Epistles!  Augustine rightly shows the flaw in the logic of his opponents’ unbiblical argument and the lasting need for pedagogical instruction.

Aim #2: Delight.  Mere instruction is not enough, a “hearer must be delighted so that he can be gripped and made to listen.”[7]  Augustine believed this to be especially so for “the disdainful kind of person who is not satisfied by the truth presented anyhow, but accepts it only if expressed in such a way that the discourse also gives pleasure.”[8] In this case, the preacher serves his congregation by paying attention to his style and utilizing it to create pleasure in his listeners as he delivers his instruction.

Aim #3: Move.  The third aim of the preacher is to move the listener to action.  This aim builds on instruction and proceeds past delight to create change in the listener, a change which sees them “impelled to action.”[9]  This takes place, if the listener:

[…] values what you promise, fears what you threaten, hates what you condemn, embraces what you commend, and rues the thing which you insist that he must regret, and if he rejoices at what you set forth in your preaching as something joyful, pities those whom by your words you present to his mind’s eye as miserable, and shuns those whom with terrifying language you urge him to avoid.[10]

Augustine claims that to do this is to “conquer their minds” and move them to action.[11]  Thus the three aims of instructing, delighting, and moving work together to form one act of proclaiming a sermon message.

What do you think of Augustine’s 3 aims? Do you as a preacher strive to do this? Would you change or add to what Augustine claims?

[1] Augustine, De doctrina christiana, 4.74-86.


[2] Ibid., 4.79.


[3] Ibid. 4.74.


[4] Ibid., 4.79.


[5] Ibid., 4.75


[6] Ibid., 4.90.


[7] Ibid., 4.75.


[8] Ibid., 4.78.


[9] Ibid., 4.75.


[10] Ibid.


[11] Ibid., 4.79.


By Tom Schmidt

Christian, husband of Rach, Church Planter,musician,

4 replies on “3 Aims of a Preacher: INSTRUCT, DELIGHT, MOVE (Augustine)”

Will have to check out Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana! His ideas here do fly in the face of Confessionalists today who relegate all affection-talk to the Pietist movement. Augustine’s a stud.

I agree Ryan! Yeah I think you’d really enjoy ‘de doctrina’, in English called ‘On Christian Doctrine’. It is not too long of a book either…

Too funny, Tom. I looked at your comment with a curious look, walked across the room to my library, and pulled the very book off my shelf. I got it.

My copy is called On Christian Teaching (Oxford), but says in the back that it was translated from De Doctrina Christina. Guess they thought ‘teaching’ appealed to a wider audience than ‘doctrine.’ But, regardless, I’m excited to report that this will be one of my travel books as we leave for Germany next week! Thanks again for the post! Always helpful, Tom!

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