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The Sheriff and Your Sermons: What Preachers Can Learn From Sheriff Andy Taylor

The recent death of Andy Griffith, that marvelous actor who portrayed down-home warmth as the gunless Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show, brings forth a flood of childhood memories of optimum television viewing. Those memories are revisited every time I sit down to enjoy a rerun episode of this truly classic production. However, and much more importantly, Sheriff Andy Taylor does not simply leave me with warm thoughts. I am convinced that his communication as the sworn defender of safety for Mayberry has significant instructive value for text-driven preachers in a postmodern world. While certainly not exhaustive, consider this brief list of helpful hints for those who preach today.

  • Speak the Truth “Straight”
    Hard-core viewers can recall an episode when Opie is lobbying for an increase in his allowance. Andy prefaces his response with something like, “You want it straight? Well, here it is…” What follows is a denial of the request couched in concise and compassionate communication. Andy does not allow his response to be governed by what he thinks Opie would like to hear. He simply speaks the truth and in so doing pursues the best for his son. Preacher, don’t “short-sheet” the truth in order to gain what is, at best, only fleeting favor with people. Speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). To do less is a futile attempt to re-invent reality for your hearers.
  • Subordinate Yourself to the Message
    An Associated Press writer notes that “Griffith realized he was surrounded by comic giants” and therefore honed his role as down-home dignity. In doing so, “He carried the show, but you couldn’t really tell—it rested light as a feather on Griffith’s shoulders.” Preacher, you are not and do not need to be surrounded by comic giants. However, you are surrounded by the contours of the biblical text. Dare to dig deep into it. Let your sermon be shaped by its timeless and authoritative message (Isa. 40:8) rather than by trite and anecdotal meanderings.
  • Use Simple Language
    Who can forget Andy’s exasperated declaration in response to the antics of his high-strung deputy, Barney Fife? “Barney, you beat all! You know it? You beat all!” Barney has no difficulty grasping the intent of those words and sentiment behind them. Likewise, preacher, craft your language in light of the contextual realities of your hearers and aim for clarity (1 Cor 2:1-2). You don’t need to ask, “Are you living in light of the inevitable eschaton?” Instead, you can ask the simple question, “Are you living in light of the certain return of Jesus?”
  • Speak the Language of Grace
    Griffith’s “aw shucks” Sheriff Taylor communicates with a purity and wholesomeness that stands in stark contrast to sit-com characters of the present and, sadly, some preachers! No word ever leaves his lips that would even remotely besmirch the upstanding and integrity-filled peace officer that he is. Preacher, take a cue from the Sheriff, and be certain that your words reflect the authority behind, over and above you—the Lord Jesus Christ and Prince of Peace. Resist the enticement to aim for “shock value” through graphic descriptions and “edgy” expressions. The pulpit should be the last place one hears putrid language, regardless of how mesmerizing or “masculine” its “appeal” may be (Eph. 4:29).

There are manifold reasons why the Andy Griffith show maintains a certain aura of timelessness. The aforementioned matters are merely a small sampling of qualities that explain its sustained influence. Preacher, as you declare the timeless truth of the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8), do it with truthfulness, submission, simplicity and sensitivity. After all, the Kingdom you represent is not fictional but factual, and its existence is not temporal but eternal. Reflect on that the next time you decide to “buy a big ol’ bottle of orange pop and drive over to Mt. Pilot” and before you step into the pulpit. Right, Ange?

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Matthew McKellar

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