September 16, 2007

Thoughts on Preaching

In the September 18 issue of Christian Century, Anthony B. Robinson, in an article titled "Courage to Preach," reviews two books on preaching from Westminster John Knox Press:
  • The Fully Alive Preacher: Recovering from Homilietical Burnout, Mike Graves
  • Preaching as Testimony, Anna Carter Florence

Through his article and references to the books, Robinson reminds us of several factors that affect our preaching:

  1. The pastor's relationship with the Bible. What is the Bible to each of us? Do we trust it and have confidence in it? Do we love the scriptures? What does that mean?
  2. Who or what is the subject of preaching? Is it the listeners, the congregation? Do the "like" the sermon? Is it entertaining? Inspiring? Is it the preacher? Was he/she vulnerable, charismatic, arresting? We are again reminded that it is not about the congregation or the preacher: it's about God. The focus of worship and preaching is God. The focus of preaching is properly on who God is, what God has done, what God is doing.
  3. The preacher's capacity to face fear and put themselves at risk. Will Willimon observes that good preachers love God more than they love their congregations. Here Robinson refers to Florence who suggests that "every act of preaching is a dying." We must die to all else, to success and failure, to praise and criticism, and do so every week. To quote Robinson: Often the cost is too high and our fear is too great. The result is preachers anxiously wondering what they can do, what new technique or innovation they can employ to get peoples attention. ... There's nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these things unless they are used to impress or entertain an audience. They will not work if the pastor does not believe that when the living word is preached, God will come among us to change, heal and make all things new.

Robinson is a speaker and congregation consultant. More information may be found at his web site at