No one asked me. And I know that some young preacher could no doubt write a blog, “A Word (or two) to Old Dudes Still Hanging On to their Old School Preaching Fantasies (especially, Mark Love).” And I no doubt would learn a lot of things that I didn’t really ask to learn. I know that in writing a blog like this, its possible that I will come across as cranky. I really am hoping to grow old more gracefully that that.
But I care deeply about preaching. Unlike others who think preaching is an outdated form of one-way, monological, imperialistic speech no longer suitable for contemporary tastes and values, I think it will always be important that some people listen for the sake of the rest. And that the congregation learns through preaching that its first movement toward God is to be still and to listen–to be addressed. (I also don’t believe that just because one person speaks while others are silent that a sermon has to be monological or imperialist). This is a high view of preaching. Sacramental, really. I care a lot about preaching.
And I believe in young preachers. I am so proud of the young women and men that I know who have answered the call to preach. They are gifted and devoted and so mature already in their gifts.
So, hopefully my words will be heard in this spirit. Here goes. A few words for young preachers and those who care about them.
Don’t just point to the text. Stand in it. Wear it. In too many sermons that I hear, a text is read and then largely discarded. The preacher stands outside the text and refers to it here and there, makes points about it, uses it as the sponsor of the sermon. But the text wants to do something, not just be pointed at or referred to. It wants to perform. This is what texts do, especially sacred texts. They don’t simply say something, they do something. And the sermon should do this: allow the text to perform. Too often what performs in a sermon are stories or jokes or alliteration or lists or pithy slogans. You have something better than all of that. You have a sacred text. Stand inside it. Live in it. And let your listener experience that.
Let me be clear here. I’m not saying explain the text (which is another way of standing outside the text, or even above it), unless that’s necessary. I’m saying put on the text, wear it, and let it walk around and absorb our world.
Second, intensity is not the only way to hold a person’s attention. Too often, in my opinion, young preachers rely on one volume (loud) and one pace (fast) to keep the audience emotionally engaged. I think, however, that it is more likely that you’ll keep your audience if there’s variety in the tone and pace of the sermon. Sermons need movement and emotional variety, distance and proximity. They need a dynamic range, and to get that you have to have moments other than loud and fast. (This seems only to be a problem for male preachers).
Third, lose the preaching voice. I know that preaching is something other than having a conversation. There is a certain performance that requires projection. But this should still be your voice, not a sermon voice. In fact, I think the great task in becoming a good preacher is learning to find your own voice as you preach. You want to trade on authenticity. PT Forsyth once said, “the preacher loses power whose sermons are felt to be productions and not real doings with a living God.”
Fourth, don’t try to do too much. There will be other sermons. You don’t have to tell us all you know about something. Your sermon doesn’t have to utilize every good idea that occurs to you. You’ll likely get to preach again and there will be other chances to share what you have or know. Preach one sermon well, not several sermons under one cover.
Fifth, don’t be the hero. I think its important that listeners know how your life is implicated by the text. But I don’t think that means you have to tell a lot of stories about yourself, and you should be very careful before you tell a story in which you are the hero.
Sixth, don’t listen to cranky old preachers. Unless you should.
Mark, that is really great advice for anyone – even us lay ministers in the biker world. I appreciate your wisdom very much. I am going to print your blog and keep it hand for future reference. I don’t get to preach really, but I get the opportunity to share text from time to time so this is very appropriate. Cranky? I don’t think so (not yet anyway). Keep doing what you are doing my friend. Blessings to you always, Chaplain Mike, Bikers For Christ
Awesome! One more, begging your indulgence. Keep it short, unless you have the power to heal a guy who goes to sleep during your sermon and falls out a window.
And another: Keep it focused on Jesus. Let Him be the message. But, of course, this could be included in the first of this list – “wear the text.” Put on the Lord Jesus Christ!
Thanks for this Mark. Really appreciate this post. This is something I need reminded of often. Alliteration, bullet points, and explanation take a lot less work, so I am always tempted to forgo the work it takes to really live in a text, and “wear it” in the sermon.
Thanks Mark. A lot of us older guys need to take heed as well.
Great words, thanks Mark!
When are you ever going to get around to writing/publishing a book on preaching?
Please do that.
Resisting the obvious puns on how much I would like Mark’s potential preaching book.
Mark, thanks for the words and encouragement. As a young(ish) minister, I too love preaching. And I am incredibly impacted by these words: “the congregation learns through preaching that its first movement toward God is to be still and to listen–to be addressed.” Our technology-filled, fast-paced, chaotic world leads us to be in a constant state of response – to that email, text, tweet, Facebook message, etc. The very act of sitting down and listening to someone preach is a spiritual discipline. It creates space and margin for us to understand the rest of the world. Thanks for that reminder.
Well put. Great advise. Sound wisdom. And not even a little bit cranky.
Thanks for your reflections.
I am especially intrigued by your first point on “wearing the text” instead of just pointing to it. I think I get what you are saying and I’ve heard these kinds of sermons before (i.e., Craddock’s work).
However, do you have any sermons that you have heard or delivered yourself which might further illustrate what your talking about here?
Wilson, I do have examples. I’ve written articles about it. I’ll Summarize some of what I mean and leave links.
Thanks, Mark, for once again stirring up old paint so it doesn’t won’t go stale. I want to hear a preacher who’s been on the mountain to hear God … and whose face glows a bit from that encounter. Peace to your house.
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