Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Preaching is Performance Art |

Clayton Schmidt, professor of preaching at Fuller Seminary has written an article for Leadership Journal entitled Preaching is Performance Art. In it he argues that:

"Preaching is not merely the art of textual exegesis, contextual analysis, and creative writing—though it involves all of these. Performance lies at the heart of proclamation.

"In literal terms, the word performance means to bring a message through (per) a form. It is a tool for expression, not a means of drawing attention to the performer. Our suspicions of performance are based on a caricature of the real thing, a performance pathology.

"Ultimately, if the preacher's words are to become the Word of life, they must be presented in a way that creates a world for listeners to inhabit. This has to do with delivery, but there is more. To truly understand performance requires a theological understanding of human responsibility in the equation of incarnation."

The article is a little long, but has some good thoughts on what it means to perform the sermon without becoming a diva in the process.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Question of the week: Do you preach both yes and no sermons?

I came across this quote in an article by S. Bowen Matthews: "Denouncing sin has a place in pastoral ministry.  But in order of intention, it is not first place.  Yes, we need to know what to say no to.  But above all we need to know what to say yes to."  He goes on to explain how he preached a series on the Ten Commandments, preaching two sermons per commandment.  One sermon expounded on the meaning of the commandment, the second said, "Let's assume that we obey the commandment.  What possibilities of holiness does it open up for us?"

I think Pastor Matthews is on to something profound.  The "Thou Shalt Nots" of our faith exist in order to open the way for the glorious "Thou Shalts."  I had not read this article before last Sunday, but my sermon fit this pattern well.  I spoke about resisting the temptation of viewing pornography in order to open up the possibilities of genuine relationship.  The emphasis in the sermon was not upon the evils of pornography so much as it was no the gift of true relationship.  Nevertheless, I had to preach the no before I could preach the yes.  Some call this law and gospel preaching, others trouble and grace, I like Matthews description of no and yes sermons. 

My guess is that many, many sermons naturally follow this pattern.  But I also know that sometimes I get stuck in one or the other.  Sometimes I preach a strong "No" but I do not have a well developed "Yes."  This can lead to self-righteousness if it's a sin I don't struggle with, or despair if it is a sin over which I often stumble.  Other times I preach only a yes, which while more comfortable for the preacher, often leaves people unaware of the requirements or cost of following Jesus.   I think I agree with Matthews, the best sermons have a no and a yes.

What do you think?  Do your sermons follow a no then yes pattern?  Can you give an example?  Which do you find easier to preach on, the no or the yes?  Do you think every sermon need a no and a yes or you can preach one with out the other, say a Yes without a No?  Is there a danger in preaching a yes without a no, or a no without a yes?

*S. Bowen Matthews, "Conviction and Compassion: It takes both toughness and tenderness to rescue people from sin," in The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: A Comprehensive Resource for Today's Communicators, 250-254.

Quote of the Week: More than a history lesson and some freeze-dried stories

"In the next millennium, knowledge about God will not preach. Knowledge of God will. And if that is too much to ask, then passionate pursuit of God will do. Those who listen to us expect more than a history lesson on Luke-Acts plus some freeze-dried stories we got out of a book. They want food for their hearts. They want help for their souls. They want to see Jesus, or at least someone who knows Jesus, and God help us if we offer them less than that."

Barbara Brown Taylor, "Preaching into the Next Millennium" in Erskine Clarke, ed., Exilic Preaching: Testimony for Christian Exiles in an Increasingly Hostile Culture (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press International, 1998), 98-99.

Thursday, May 19, 2011



Publisher: Center for Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN)

Cost: Free.

Offerings: offers commentary on each of the lectionary texts along with articles and videos centered upon the craft of preaching.

Leading contributors: The majority of contributors are Lutheran ministers, but the articles and videos also include contributions from Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and others.

My Thoughts: is up front about what they do and do not offer.  On their site you will find plenty articles about preaching and theology, preaching and the Bible, even preaching and the culture.  You will also find commentary on the various lectionary texts for each week.  What you won't find are illustrations, sermons, or sermon outlines. If you are out searching the web for one last illustration for this week's sermon, is not for you.

If you are looking for a place to refresh your thinking about the task of preaching, then holds some usefulness for you.  The articles tend to be well written, although I find them difficult to search through.  Adding the ability to search the articles by topic would greatly improve the site.  The brief commentaries on each of the lectionary passages are good starting points to get the brain going.  You can search these by date or if you aren't a lectionary preacher, there is a Bible passage index, that allows you to search the site's commentary by Biblical passage. 

By far, the best part of the site is the Preaching Moments video podcasts.  These are short, 3-4 minute interviews with preachers from various backgrounds.  I've embedded several on this blog.  Included among the 170+ videos are videos from Haddon Robinson, Will Willimon, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene Peterson.  I find watching them on Youtube easier than watching them on the site.  On YouTube you can add several to your playlist and let them roll while you work at some other task.  My only complaint, which is the same complaint I have about the articles, is that the videos are not searchable by topic.

I have found the Preaching Moments so helpful, that I wish someone in a more evangelical tradition would take a cue and make similar videos with evangelical preachers.  I think there is so much to learn from pastors who have been at the task of preaching long enough to have developed a deep reservoir of wisdom on subject.  I appreciate having captured some of that wisdom on video and encourage other centers for preaching to follow suit.

Read other reviews:
The Text this Week
Preaching Today

Illustration-a-day: Pornography

I'm preaching a sermon series entitled, "Living Virtuously in a Virtual World." This week's sermon is from 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 and is entitled, "Looks that Kill: Practicing self-control in a world of instant gratification."

In researching the topic here are some articles and sources I have found helpful.

Romona Richard's wrote an article for about the rise in the number of women addicted to online pornography entitled, "Dirty Little Secret: Men aren't the only ones lured by Internet porn."

An anonymous woman wrote an article for National Review Online about the damage done to her own family by her husband's pornography addiction, "Getting Serious About Pornography: It is ravaging American families."

Perhaps most helpful has been the issue of Christian Reflection on The Pornographic Culture. Most of the articles of that issue, plus some study guides are available online here. Todd Lake's sermon "Sex and the City (of God)" was a wonderful example of a sermon that approached this topic with wisdom and grace.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Question of the week: Words that dance - how do you make your sermons more descriptive?

I once picked up Frank G. Honeycutt's book Preaching for Adult Conversion and Commitment from CBD's bargain section.  I didn't know what to expect from a book that only cost $3 but I was pleasantly surprised.  Honeycutt's book turned out to be a great look at preaching for transformation, something I hope all of us aim for.

As a side benefit, each chapter contains a sermon of Honeycutt's.  Each sermon reads like a three-dimensional movie with vivid descriptions that bring the biblical text into the reader's lap.  Take this section of a sermon in which Honeycut brings to life Luke 4:1-11.  The sermon is set up by a retelling of a scene from Joseph Heller's God Knows in which God utters to Moses the line, "Whoever said I was going to make sense? Show me where it says I have to make sense. I never promised sense. . . I'll give milk, I'll give honey.  Not sense."  Honeycutt moves from that line to discuss the gospel reading:

"Jesus has been invited to the home of a prominent religious leader, a successful clergyman who has a couple published books and pastors a successful congregation downtown.  This is a nice sit-down meal with the town's upper crust.  The kind of meal where you have about six more gleaming eating utensils than you really need when a single fork would do.  The sort of meal where you probably got an invitation in the mail including the white doily that falls out with the rectangular RSVP card.  The sort of gathering where someone stands at the door and makes sure you're on 'the list.'  I can't imagine that Jesus had an extensive wardrobe, but let's say he dressed up for the affair and rang the doorbell wearing nice slacks, Rockport loafers, and a navy blue sport coat.

"Jesus has hardly gotten in the door and air-kissed the hostess when he starts to deliver odious one-liners that have about the same effect as a loud fart at a funeral.  It says in the Bible that members of the church council were watching Jesus 'closely,' and to tell you the truth I can sure see why.  Into that gathering of the town's blue-blood elite, Jesus injects advice that would make Martha Stewart shiver.  It doesn't make sense, this upside-down etiquette.  'Whoever said I was going to make sense?' we can almost hear Jesus say. 'Show me where it says I have to make sense.'"

The rest of this sermon follows in this pattern as Honeycutt brings to life the healing of the man with dropsy, Jesus teaching about taking the lowest seat, and Jesus advice to invite the least of these to the next banquet.

At least in written form, the sermon's language does an excellent job of rescuing the text from the Oh-I've-heard-this-one-before syndrome.  For some preachers, such description comes naturally.  My guess is, that most of us have to work at it.  I know I do.  While we may not all be comfortable using the word "fart" in a sermon, spending time on how we describe things, finding the right word instead of simply the adequate word, can be the difference between evoking the listeners' imagination or lulling them to sleep.

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre explains in her book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, that what we ought to be after is precision in our language.  "Precise language," she explains, "surprises like a dancer's extra second of stillness in mid-air: word and experience come together in an irreproducible moment of epiphanic delight."  That is, the precise word, well employed facilitate epiphanies, encounters with the divine.  in other words, how we say it matters.

So I wonder, how much time do you spend on how you are going to say whatever it is you are going to say?  How have you learned to say it better?

Illustration-a-day: Jesus gives bad advice

"Mr. Hayes was a churchgoer (indeed, a deacon), but he considered his religion a civic duty, a moral discipline, a social obligation, and (he was honest) a business asset. . . . Hayes was a Christian, but if the truth be known, Christ irritated him to death.  With the army in Freiburg, Germany, in 1959, he'd read the Gospels while cooped up in the infirmary, and he'd argued by pencil in the margins against the Savior.  In his personal opinion, Christ's advice sounded like civic sabotage, moral lunacy, social anarchy, and business disaster."

Michael Malone, Handling Sin, as quoted in Frank G. Honeycutt's, Preaching for Adult Conversion

Quote of the week: Preaching with a straight face

"Pastors who climb into a pulpit Sunday after Sunday inherit a rather odd story to proclaim with a straight face. . . Our homiletical goal for our people over time must be nothing short of conversion to this odd man revealed in this odd story."

Frank G. Honeycutt, Preaching for Adult Conversion and Commitment

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Brevity and Boldness: A word from Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr.

Great word on brevity and boldness from Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. Favorite line, "A bad sermon can be forgiven if it's short. A good sermon can lose its way if it's too long."

found on

Monday, May 9, 2011

Quote of the Week - Homiletics is rhetoric under the tutelage of theology

Homiletics is nothing more than rhetoric under the tutelage of theology.  In sum, good preachers are always good theologians.  Bad preachers are still dozing through the theological books they always meant to read.

David G. Buttrick, "Side Thoughts on Preaching for Those Who Must Stammer God's Unnamed Name" in Best Advice: Wisdom on Ministry from 30 Leading Pastors and Preachers

Question of the week: What are some tricks you have to find some extra time?

As is evidenced by the lack of posts last week, life caught up with me. School work combined with some extra tasks at work meant little time for the blog. That's alright, I doubt the world suffered very much for that. One thing that can suffer when extra work piles on is sermon preparation. Time spent in the study is time almost no one sees and it is tempting at times for the preacher to cut corners there by not doing enough exegetical work or not sitting with the text long enough to find a fresh word from God. What we usually end up with on those weeks is something that isn't very thought out or something rehashed that we've done before. In other words, not our best.

While we can't always predict when extra work will pile on - like when a funeral occurs. However, we do sometimes know when busy weeks are headed our way. Family vacations, conferences, etc. - these things show up on our calendar months ahead of time, usually. We can, plan our sermons in such a way as to take such heavy weeks into consideration.

One thing I will often do, if I know I have a week coming up that will prevent a lot of study time is plan to preach from a text for two or more weeks in row. I'm a one idea per sermon kind of preacher, but most texts, especially in the epistles have more than one idea in them. As a result, if I'm willing to do some very heavy lifting exegetically that first week on the whole passage, then I will be able to greatly reduce the amount of exegetical work I'll need to do over the next couple of weeks. I spend about 2/5 of my sermon preparation on exegetical work (2/5 on writing, 1/5 on delivery), so getting this part of my preparation finished ahead of time reduces the amount of time I'm spending on a sermon by 40%. That can be very helpful on a week that I know is going to be busy.

An example might be a sermon series that I did out of Hebrews 13. By exegeting the whole chapter in the first week of sermon preparation, I was able to minimize that portion of sermon work for the following three weeks - one of which I was at a conference limiting my ability to prepare.

Hebrews 13:1-2 Keep on Loving . . . the StrangerHebrews 13:1, 3 Keep on Loving . . . the PersecutedHebrews 13:1, 4 Keep on Loving . . . your SpouseHebrews 13:1, 7-8 Keep on Loving . . . Those who Taught you the Faith

To do this requires some advanced planning, but it can really help with the work load on weeks we know will be busy ones.

What are some things you do to help balance the responsibility of faithful preparation with all the other duties that a pastor faces?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Question of the week: Summer Sermon Series?

Hey friends.  I hope you had a blessed Easter season and have had some time to rest.  I've taken the first part of this week off to get some doctoral work done.  I'm not doing much on the blog either, but I'll pick it up again later in the week.  Until then, a question that needs your input.  Do you preach sermon series?  Do you have one planned for the summer or early next fall?  Can you share what you are doing or perhaps what you've done in the past?  The more of you who share, the more help this post will be for others.  Below is a series I've done before that worked well for me.

The Practice of Worship: Why we need to work at the worship of God - Psalm 100

Enjoying God: The Practice of Praise - 1 Timothy 1:12-19

Telling the Truth: The Practice of Confession - Psalm 73

Dying to Live: The Practice of Baptism - Romans 6:1-7

Life Together: The Practice of the Lord's Supper - 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Turning the World Upside Down: The Practice of Giving - Mark 12:41-44

A Saving Word: The Practice of Proclamation - 1 Timothy 4:9-16