Thursday, March 24, 2011

Preaching Truism (3)

I am grateful for the comments posted on the last two truisms and I look forward to responding as this little series progresses. Needless to say I have big picture of what preaching at its best, is meant to be: " a biblical speaking/listening/seeing/doing event that God empowers to lead and form Christ-shaped people and communities" (from 360degree Leadership). When you consider preaching's spiritual importance within worship these first two truisms call for humility....humility. That's certainly how I feel.

And what is next? 3. Most preachers fall into one preferred pattern of preparation and delivery. I say "fall into" not because we don't work hard ( so often we do) but because, commonly, once preachers have found a pattern that "works" they stick with it...on and on. So, the first steps of practicing preaching often set the tone for a lifetime. A seminary student who had already been preaching for five years said to me at the beginning of class: " I hope you don't spoil my preaching. I have a way of doing it that really works well!"

Now, in busy pastoral lives it is understandable that preachers should develop efficient methods to produce sermons. And, God certainly blesses faithful ministry. But, the extraordinary range of teaching in Scripture, the promise of Holy Spirit empowering, and the breadth of listeners' experiences, challenges sameness delivered by sermon "sausages." Turn the gospel pages and you never know how Jesus is going to teach next! Living in God's word, and hearing what he is saying to preachers for their sakes and their hearers, exposes preachers to fresh experiences each week which need to be shared afresh.

This is not a plea for gimmicks and communication techniques (please, no)! Rather, this truism challenges me as a preacher preparing my next sermon to recognize that I cannot be sure how it might begin or end, how it might be lit up by testimony and story, how it might counter popular culture, how it belongs within gathered worship, and how it might be used by God to transform me and others. With openness to the Holy Spirit I should be ready to bring fresh good news. Another student said to me that he had an uncle who was a preacher who warned about bringing "stale bread" to the pulpit. That old saw: "Ten thousand thousand are their texts, but all their sermons are one" remains a serious warning! We need to develop good habits of exegesis, interpretation and sermon design, but also openness to where God's lively word may take us today. Do you agree?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Preaching truism (2)

Let me emphasize again that these truisms are not intended to beat up us preachers! Rather they express common truths about the way we behave, and should alert us to where we can improve.

The next truism builds upon the first. 2. Most preachers find constructive criticism difficult to receive. Of course, most people find any kind of criticism difficult to accept because it often seems to come at the wrong time from the wrong people. Yet, the public act of preaching makes genuine feedback ESSENTIAL. Unless preachers actively seek honest feedback from some, whose love for God and for the preacher qualifies them to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15), they can easily stagnate.

Is this easy? Oh no. Perhaps preachers are some of the most vulnerable communicators because they speak on God's authority from his Book to such widely diverse hearers. Yes, the Holy Spirit gives words and applies truths but too easily the flesh of the preacher can obscure the glory of God. None have enough breadth of experience or depth of insight to be able to relate to everyone, but when we allow others to critique us (lovingly and prayerfully) on the preaching journey we can grow by their help.

I have blogged before about this need for preachers to be open to others. I have been told that it is different for me because I am teaching students in seminary who expect honest feedback. But do we really think that a couple of classes in seminary has given us enough feedback for a lifetime of habit-forming? Do you think this truism is justified?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Preaching Truisms (1)

I have often thought about compiling a list of truisms about preachers and preaching. I don't want them to sound unkind or cynical, but rather reflect the common condition. One of my advantages over the last few years has been a wider exposure to other people's views of preaching and these insights need to be incorporated. But I reckon on just enough self-awareness to be able to apply these to myself.

So what is the first truism? 1. Most preachers regard themselves as above average. Most of us who preach regularly know we are not five-star preachers, but we still have a pretty healthy regard for our ability. In a survey of preachers conducted by a professor friend of mine, all responded that preaching was one of their main gifts. However, this was not evident when listening to many of them!

By definition average denotes that some fall below as well as above in gifting. Recognizing this fact, and the possibility that we might even be below average, is the first step to developing God's gift further. We should reflect humbly that improvement is always possible and often needed! The applause of well-meaning people should never allow us to exaggerate the status quo.

I guess you can argue that preachers need some self-assurance to undertake the calling (which God promises) but honest self-assessment is too often awol. Do you think this is a fair observation?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Amen!" he said.

This morning I had an exhilarating time. I taught the Faith-Works adult fellowship class at First Baptist Church Wheaton on the subject of "Worship and Community." In limited time, I ranged over some of the ways in which we can diminish the big claims of Rom. 12:1,2 and 1 Pet. 2: 4-12. Using the white board we identified many issues including: individualism, cultural naivety, liturgical amnesia and failing to live in God's story.

Of course, my passion about this has grown over the past five years of writing on exactly this subject. This was a wonderful opportunity to share with twenty-five people (including several church leaders) and to see heads nodding as well as some frowns!

At the end one class member said she was unsure how to respond: "In raising these issues was not I (the speaker!) calling for a major review of nearly everything the church does? Doesn't this demand a radical look at our life together?" To which, one of the leaders said loudly: "Amen!" Now it's easy as a teacher to raise questions and stir the pot. But how I hope it won't stay there.

My main prayer as my book inches towards publication (in September) is that it will help us to look at our life together RADICALLY. My thanks to my friends in this class.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Painful Silence

Yes, I know it is a long time since I last posted! However, my silence is largely to do with the painful task of saying sorry to so many people I have missed, and catching up with some work that I have only just become aware of. Oh, the pain! Top of the list were two journal articles for the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society that I was blissfully unaware were overdue! They are now with the editor. But much else is irreparably lost.

Of course, some messages really don't matter. I have been able to delete spam en masse and other inconsequential messages. But in the midst of the debris some issues have really mattered. So again, if you were caught out and still haven't heard from me, apologies and let me know on:!

However, there have been some good things. Top of the good things list was contact from my Chinese editor about the translation of my book: 360Degree Preaching. Apparently, it is nearly ready for publication. She told me how important she believes preaching to be as the vast country of China opens up more to Christianity. Her email just shimmered with excitement and thrilled me to the core as she asked me to join in prayer for the project. I'll let you know when something happens next. Anyway, thanks for your forbearance.