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Is preaching dead?

October 17, 2015

P ingThe demand for after-dinner speakers and stand-up comics suggests that monologues still appeal.

A silent congregation isn’t passive but reacts to what is said so that we work out, together, what the ‘word of the Lord’ is for us here, today. No two people hear the same sermon: the preacher’s words are filtered through each individual’s experience and needs so it no longer surprises me when people compliment me for something I never actually said but which they heard.

Preaching isn’t teaching but an act of worship in the form of proclamation or the leading of a kind of meditation on the lectionary text(s).

Just as the celebrant breaks the bread, the preacher (in Lutheran thinking) breaks open the word.

My preaching heroes are Fr. Ken Leech and the Methodist Colin Morris, both masters of gesture, pause and of the art of putting sentences together to provoke laughter, tears and deep reflection.

Life-changing sermons are often delivered by preachers who will never know what they have set in motion. Since the full growth of seeds planted may not be evident for years, the garden may not realize at the time what has been planted there. We will never know just who our preaching has influenced, and how. You’ve ate many meals and been nourished without remembering the menus.

A sermon shouldn’t be partisan: a crusade against abortion, the Conservative Party or whatever. After all, is the congregation supposed to take my views as the Word of God or are they meant to be helped so as to discern what that Word is saying?

‘Weeing from the pulpit’ is bad – when the preacher assumes that ‘We should/must believe…’

So is telling the congregation your ‘working out’ – ‘As I thought about today’s readings…’

So too, airing your doubts. Speak about your convictions.

It isn’t ‘what the Bible says’ but how it might speak to our particular circumstances. A good preacher orchestrates the text, current affairs, and particular issues in the life of a particular community.

Preaching excites me because it challenges me to order my thoughts and sort out what is true for me at the time and what is worthwhile to communicate.

I sometimes have doubts at the last minute – it’s not the right audience, not the right tone… when it’s too late to start again on a different sermon, but nearly every time that happens, someone comes up to me and says that I spoke exactly the right word for them in their situation.

I try to start my preparation a month in advance and let my ideas stew like tea in the pot. I told my students to read all the questions on an exam paper before starting to write – the subconscious works away on them. My rule is an hour’s preparation for each minute of preaching. (Though the most praise I ever received was for a sermon I preached at 30 minutes notice!).

I know I’ve failed when someone says it was a ‘nice sermon’.

I hope it was ‘provocative’.

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