Preaching On Your Feet: Connecting God and the Audience in the Preachable Moment
by Fred R. Lybrand (B&H Academic, 2008) pb, 182pp
“… I believe we need ‘soul-moving preachers’; and yet to be a soul-moving preacher, mustn’t our own souls be moved as preachers?” (p.vi)
“A sermon must be prepared and drafted word by word. It is certainly true in this instance that an account will have to be given for every idle word. Preaching is not an art in which some are able to improvise while others have to write everything out; it is the central action of evangelical worship in close association with the sacrament. Only a sermon in which every word can be justified may be said to be a sacramental action.” [quoting Karl Barth] (p.viii)
“The claim here is simply that the most effective preachers are those who preach on their feet, and the least effective ones are those who preach on their seats. … Preaching on your seat is the process of working out copious notes or a manuscript or a thick outline in the days ahead of preaching to be practiced and then finally delivered to the audience as a carefully crafted sermon. … Preaching on your feet is what preaching has always been – a real connection to real human beings in a real moment of time. … as Blackwood observes, Jesus spoke from ‘heart to heart and from eye to eye.” (p.2)
“I want to make you know two things: first, that if your ministry is to be good for anything, it must be your ministry, and not a feeble echo of another man’s; and, second, that the Christian ministry is not the mere practice of a set of rules and precedents, but is a broad, free, fresh meeting of a man with men, in such close contact that the Christ who has entered into his life may, through his, enter into theirs.” [quoting Phillips Brooks] (p.4)
“Preaching is joy, but preparing is torture.” (p.12)
“The real question about a sermon is, not whether it is extemporaneous when you deliver it to your people, but whether it ever was extemporaneous, whether there was ever a time when the discourse sprang freshly from your heart and mind. … The main question about sermons is whether they feel their hearers.” [quoting Phillips Brooks] (p.21)
“To the consciousness of the speaker his own mental state is similar to that of one participating in an animated conversation – there being no effort to recollect, no anticipation of what is to come, but entire absorption in the process of evolving, in correct forms of speech, the thoughts intended to be impressed.” [quoting James Buckley] (pp.23-24)
“… three words capture the essential elements necessary for effective preaching. These elements also display who preaching on your feet is the proper mode. … persuasion … earnestness … personality.” (p.27,29,36)
“Preaching on your feet is loaded with advantages … time management … connection with the audience … the possibility of the audience remembering … the example of humility … adaptability … Holy Spirit led … personality trumps plagiarism … preaching becomes and act of faith … growth in confidence … readiness … a walk with God is more intimate to preaching … you become sharper (if not smarter) … fresh delivery … joy in preaching … the audience is expectant.” (p.41,43-54)
“Preaching on your feet is the historically proven means by which the greatest speakers had the greatest impact … John Chrysostom … Augustine … Martin Luther … Huldrych Zwingli … John Calvin … Cotton Mather … John Wesley … George Whitefield … John Newton … Charles Haddon Spurgeon … Charles G. Finney … George W. Truett.” (p.58-61,63-65)
“Perhaps the most incredible passage in the Word of God on the difference between writing and speaking is found in 2 John 12: ‘Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hoped to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.” (p.73)
“After preparing, praying, and reflecting, thought and language simply bring forth this one powerful truth: If you know what you intend to say, then the words will come if you start.” (p.84)
“Good impromptu speech is just the utterance of a practiced thinker – a man of information, meditating on his legs, and allowing his thoughts to march through his mouth into the open air. Think aloud as much as you can when you’re alone, and you will soon be on the high road of success in this matter.” [quoting C.H. Spurgeon] (p.94)
“Select a theme with which you’re familiar, one that stirs your own heart and has had intimate relations with your deepest experiences. Meditate upon it. Take a large view and mark out some grand divisions … then preach. These basic steps are the essentials of preaching on your feet.” (p.112)
“The key to delivery is not technique, but heart.” (p.125)
“… freedom isn’t doing whatever you want to do; freedom is doing what you ought to do.” (pp.134-135)
Distance is the devil’s weapon of choice as he does battle with preachers. The more distance he can put between us and our Lord, God’s word and the people, life and life eternal, the more ground he gains. He doesn’t care what fosters that distance, his only concern is that it becomes an unavoidable, unsettling fact that hangs heavy in the air.
Sometimes he uses that weapon with such stealth that we are unaware that are throat is almost slit. At other times, he deliberately makes a show of his power with a display of shock and awe so as to try to persuade us to flee our post in fear. How we respond to the spectrum of Satan’s tactics to smother us is determined in large part by our training.
Fred Lybrand’s book, Preaching On Your Feet, is not a boot camp on the whole of preaching. It is rather a snapshot of one, specific aspect of your training in your spiritual warfare that is preaching, namely, how to properly hold and fire your weapon down range. And in regard to this one particular aspect of our deadly vocation, it is difficult for me to even imagine a better instructor.
Now every drill instructor has “their way” about them. Some trained us to outline our sermons in detail and to memorize that outline, to know it by heart. Others trained us to manuscript our sermons, to write them out word-for-word, perhaps even taking it into the pulpit with us, perhaps even reading from it at times. But, however we were trained, most of us typically enter the pulpit with a fairly well-planned strategy as what we want to accomplish and how we’re going to get there. While Lybrand’s work is not about diminishing preparation or strategy, it is about not losing or veiling our passion and our connection with people in the process. It is about freeing us up to fire effectively what we have prepared to shoot. Or in the words of a song from years gone by, it pleads for us “to hold on loosely, but not let go,” with emphasis on the former.
Rather than reproducing this book’s table of contents here, let me steer you to its place on Amazon.com. Once there, click on “search inside this book” and you’ll be able to view not on the table of contents and an excerpt from the first chapter, but you’ll also note that it is fully-indexed by author, subject and Scripture, something rather (all too sadly) rare for a book of this size. Here’s the hyperlink to do so.
God is about connection and intimacy. Anything that limits such, impoverishes us of God. And so, the riches of your preaching rides on your boldness to stand in the gaps and call for the closing of the ranks. It is determined by your determination to be as transparent in godliness and earnestness toward the people as our God is holy and passionate toward us all. Anything less is to display our God as a lesser being than he truly is. As we refuse to distance ourselves from God’s people, including in the way we preach, we magnify God and glorify him as we should. And it is precisely then that Satan drops his weapon and flees.
In sum, buy this book and make it your own. You will not be sorry. Highlight it and dog ear it. It should be “required reading” for all who publicly present God’s word. It is death on the bane of too many preachers, preaching or teaching “from a distance.” Every preacher or teacher whose goal is “not to get through a book of the Bible but to get a book of the Bible through the people” (p.152), be they fresh meat or a hardened veteran, would benefit from the reading of it. On a scale of 0-10, I give it a 9.7, the only points being off that I think it could have been written slightly more compactly.