WBE Day 5: Genesis 21:1-24:9 (pp.27-31; http://bit.ly/3E3XJx). “The Lord will provide.” (22:14) The words Abraham lived & died by. So should I.
Best Advice for Preaching
edited by John S. McClure (Fortress, 1998), 170pp, pb, $17.00 retail; $17.00 @ Amazon (http://bit.ly/VLF2d)
“There are two kinds of preachers – those who have to say something and those who have something to say!” (p.6)
“We are not in the pulpit for the sake of the personal response and affirmation we get, but for the glory of God.” (p.13, J. Philip Wogaman)
“… preaching is a conversation between God and the people as close friends, even more so, lovers. I simply serve as the medium of this conversation.” (p.8, Virgilio Elizondo)
“… preaching is the hardest work I have ever done in my life. But I also have to tell you that I have never felt more alive than I do in the pulpit on Sunday mornings.” (p.15)
“Giving myself to disciplined and prayerful reading of Scripture gives me the eye I bring to all else I read and see. This is far more than finding a text for Sunday and doing an exegesis of that text. I am talking about a way of being formed as a Christian and as a teacher. Out of this reservoir one preaches particular texts but is never guilty of proof-texting, which comes from ‘using’ the Bible for sermons.” (pp.25-26, Fred Craddock)
“The preacher who searches every experience for the thing that will preach soon loses sight of the experience itself.” (p.28)
“I am given two or three weeks, usually at the beginning of the summer, to hole up somewhere with abundant resource materials and other reading, and at the end of that time I hope to have a basic outline of the year in hand. That will include a specific title and a brief synopsis of what I hope to do with the sermon, along with the Old and New Testament scripture readings and suggested hymns.” (p.39, J. Philip Wogaman)
“Things discouraged. Don’t employ a haphazard, ‘What shall I preach next Sunday?’ approach to sermon planning. Don’t fall into the habit of building every sermon the same way. Don’t try to blend the lectionary texts for a given Sunday into one giant preaching passage. Don’t avoid hard texts, difficult questions, or demanding political and social issues in preaching.” (p.47)
“Reading a short story each week would be an excellent discipline for every preacher, for the short story is the art form closest to that of a sermon.” (p.48, John Claypool)
“It is a good idea to keep making fresh what is familiar. For example, preach a series on the Lord’s prayer … or the Twenty-third Psalm.” (p.49, William Sloane Coffin)
“I believe the best way to begin collecting supportive material is by reading the text out loud and paying attention to the associations it evokes. How do I feel when I hear it? When was the last time I felt that way? What is the connection? What book, movie, event, or conversation does the text bring to mind? Once I have established my own kinship with the text, I spend hours with commentaries … Then I talk about the text with someone … Since the freshest comments often come from those who describe themselves as the least religious people, I make and keep friends outside the church who are willing to talk about sermons with me.” (p.55, Barbara Brown Taylor)
“To begin to prepare a sermon without consulting at least one current commentary on the text is like doing a igh dive into the shallow end of the pool.” (p.56, John Vannorsdall)
“Set aside observation times in different places each week (playground, lunch counter, park, hospital waiting room, sale barn, mall); look and write down what you see. Read pieces like ‘Hers” and ‘About Men’ in the New York Times Magazine to get insights on men and women. Write inside back covers of books noting topics and page numbers to remember. I keep file folders of print pieces by topic … and some according to authors … Take a small notepad everywhere and use it to remember what you see and hear.” (p.58, Barbara Lundblad)
“Sermons are a trip, not just a destination, and what matters to the listener is that all of us are going somewhere together.” (p.67, Robin Meyers)
“However it is done, the beginning and ending of a sermon are especially important, like the take-off and landing of an airplane. Find a way to capture the congregation’s attention immediately and at the ending to draw things together.” (p.75, J. Philip Wogaman)
“When listening to a sermon, I try to remember how often I have wondered, ‘Why did she or he not stop right there?’ And how seldom I have thought, ‘Please go on.'” (p.81, David H.C. Read)
“I continue this process of refining right up to the moment when I give the sermon.” (p.93, John Claypool)
“The language of the gospel, and therefore the language of my preaching, is the ordinary language of the street and marketplace – this is incarnational language. I think that the language of preaching should be the language of the heart so that we might communicate heart to heart rather than head to head.” (p.93, Virgilio Elizondo)
“By finding new ways of stating our long-standing faith, we give people a chance to wake up and not just be bored.” (p.96, April P. Boers)
“I use gestures a lot, especially when I am telling a story. I make a point of seeing what I am talking about in the air around me and touching it as I go.” (p.103, Barbara Brown Taylor)
“As for what sort of written material should be taken into the pulpit (manuscript, outline, note cards), the point is not that one is always superior to the other, but that all prompt the preacher to speak in the most conversational tone possible …” (p.106, Robin Meyers)
“Once the sermon begins, the total self becomes the servant of that message – the voice, the face, the hands, the mind, the emotions, the imagination. All one is and has is burned as fuel in the preaching. One is aware of everything and of nothing. The message is delivered by re-experiencing it in public, and when it is finished, one is both exhausted and exhilarated.” (p.115, Fred Craddock)
“While it is helpful to select hymns that reinforce the theme of the sermon, I do not find it necessary. Sometimes it is better to let the hymns preach their own sermons, filling in gaps left by mine. For instance, on a Sunday when the sermon concerns the requirements of the law, I might shop for some hymns that celebrate God’s grace.” (p.121, Barbara Brown Taylor)
“The sermon should be delivered as an act of worship. Listeners can discern if the preacher is at home before God or is a speech maker.” (p.124, Fred Craddock)
“We try never to exceed an hour in the service. My feeling is that in most of our traditions we experience diminishing returns when the service runs more than an hour.” (p.126, Charles Bogg)
“If the preacher speaks as though God were the primary audience and the congregation secondary, all other participants and the congregation will likely respond with a heightened sense of worship.” (p.129, Fred Craddock)
“I have often likened preaching without feedback to driving golfballs in the dark. Unless we hear from our hearers, we will never know if we are hitting the green or going off into the woods.” (p.136, Lowell)
“Probably the best feedback for sermons is what one gets while preaching! To a considerable extent you can tell what is happening unless your eyes are glued to notes or manuscripts.” (p.139, Philip Wogaman)
“I would advise preachers that in processing feedback, the most important thing to do is separate one; ego from the process. On the whole, preachers are compulsive pleasers who will receive a hundred compliments at the door and then get an ulcer over a single criticism. Learn to criticize your own sermons. You will find that preaching is so much a function of personal growth that your early efforts would be almost embarrassing now. So forgive those people who had to listen to them and set your own high standards. Most of all, don’t forget what you are called to do.” (p.143, Robin Meyers)
“Things discouraged. Avoid listening to just a few people within the congregation. The broader the range of feedback, the better. Avoid listening to only your fans or only your detractors. Avoid taking negative criticism personally. Do not avoid feedback.” (p.149)
“I believe life is the essential resource for my preaching, and I do my level best to pay attention to it.” (p.153)
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
Some of the most helpful things I learned about ministry across the years, but especially in my earliest years, didn’t come from a session in a classroom or from my head buried in a book. Those things came from just being afforded an opportunity to spend some time overhearing a few, experienced preachers swap their “war stories” and discuss things they had learned “the hard way.” From such occasions I learned of many potholes to avoid, some ditches to steer clear of, and some good roads on which to travel. Like a dry sponge I soaked up everything I could because, Lord knows, I knew precious little and needed to know much back then (and such is still the case). As I look back, I think to myself, “Where would I be now without some of that advice?” I don’t even want to know!
Unfortunately, some of the most unhelpful things I’ve had to unlearn through years of ministry are things I soaked up during some of those same sessions! Not all advice is good, you see; some advice is just plain messed up. It is, after all, only what it is: human advice, not divine revelation. Still, I wouldn’t trade those sessions for the world. Some of the advice was bully good; some of it was just plain bull! But all in all, I know those encounters sharpened me some. I was made a better man because of them. They taught/teach me to ever seek true discernment and God’s wisdom in weighing all that I hear from others.
Now John McClure’s book, Best Advice for Preaching, is an attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff for us. John wants to set before us just the grist of good advice for all ministry directly related to preaching. It is a good effort filled with good advice.
A simple glance at the table of contents – something you can do online via http://www.amazon.com – will tell you this book is neatly organized into ten distinct areas of concern, each area being addressed with a single chapter. Of course, with each of the ten chapters being penned by a different author, the reader should expect some unevenness, and such does surface, but every chapter has some good stuff in it. I personally found chapters one (the calling of the preacher), three (patterns in preaching), four (collecting supportive material), seven (what to do while preaching) and nine (feedback) to comprise the most helpful and engaging half of the book.
While some of the ten authors are “households names” to many of us preacher-types (i.e. – Allen, Long, Willimon, etc.), some are people “I’ve never heard of,” no doubt due in part to the fact that all of the authors come from outside of my particular heritage, the Churches of Christ. However, there is some real diversity within the mix represented here: Episcopalian, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, etc. And diversity shows in the gender of those quoted, too, as both male and female preachers are quoted.
Each chapter follows the same template: a discussion of (1) goals, (2) instructions, (3) things encouraged and discouraged, (4) best answers to questions, (5) a conclusion and (6) a very brief bibliography. The advice, particularly in categories (1) and (4), sometimes takes you to different conclusions, which, in my mind, is a plus. All sorts of questions are dealt with and hard, practical questions are dealt with head-on. “How do I deal with negative criticism in preaching?” is the first one out of the gate. Need more examples? “Is it permissible for preachers to use their own life experiences as a source for sermon messages?” “What about sharing stories that arise from my dad-to-day pastoral experiences with my people?” “How do I get rid of monotone?””Should the entire service be thematic?” Etc.
Of course, Moses didn’t bring down the answers to these questions from Sinai. Your mileage may vary as to whether you think the advice contained herein is truly “good.” But if I have a criticism about this book it isn’t so much that I sometimes differ with the answers offered, it’s that I am left wishing I could have heard more. This conversation I was privileged to overhear was simply too short. And yet, that makes this book something likely to be read; it’s brief and accessible. Perhaps someone gave the editor good advice: keep them hungry for more.
This work has no indexes. There is no overall bibliography. The final chapter (essential resources for preaching) does, however, offer some suggestions as to what might be some wise acquisitions for your study library. Published in 1998, I will say that particular section of book, as well as some other parts, is starting to look a bit dated. In light of my desire to hear more combined with this book’s age, perhaps a “2nd edition” or “volume 2” is something I’d be interested in seeing appear.
To be sure, there is definitely some good advice in this book for novice and veteran preachers alike; however, I believe it leans a bit more toward the not-so-seasoned pulpiteer or the one who is not accustomed to seeking advice. I would have relished a book such as this when I first started out in ministry. I can see it as a good book to have around, no matter your experience, especially if your ministry situation does not afford you much contact with other ministers.
However, as for me, this work will likely be deposited in that box of books destined for Half Price books. Then again, I might keep it for a little while and see if I encounter a rookie preacher to whom I can give it. For myself, I give it an 8.5; for the newbie preacher, a few tenths higher score would be in order.
WBE Day 4: Genesis 16:1-20:18 (pp.23-27; http://bit.ly/g9X5R). These two chapters illustrate quite well two common, wrong notions we have about God: he has forgotten us and he doesn’t hold us accountable.
WBE Day 3: Genesis 10:6-15:21 (http://bit.ly/wHcZK; pp.17-22). Cf Abe’s call by God (12:1) & Jesus’ call to us (Lk.14:26). Our love for God must be greater than our love for anything or anyone else, including familiarity, comfort and family.