Preaching

There are two debates that I know of in regards to how preaching (or, perhaps “homiletics”) ought to be done. The first has to do with the content of the message; the second, with the method of delivery.

In terms of content, there are two ways to go about preparing a sermon. One way is to take the text at hand and present the listener with a discussion of the meaning of the text. Another way is to begin with a question or concern and then range over the whole context of scripture in presenting an answer. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, though the lofty minded among us seem to prefer the latter. The protest against a “topical” style of preaching is the common danger of bringing questions to the text that scripture is hardly concerned with. “How to have a healthy love life” and “Principles of financial management” are pressing and interesting questions, and the Bible has much that may touch on them, but they are hardly the primary concerns of the gospel. The objection to “exegetical” preaching is something along the lines that it is misleading to imply that this style of speaking is *not* topical. It’s inappropriate and nearly impossible to make a sermon hinge entirely on a single passage of text. Furthermore, it *is* impossible to discuss in a single sermon even all the *major* issues that a single passage may touch on. The result of exegetical preaching, then, is either a single sermon which spews out themes like machine-gun fire, or a *series* of exegetical messages covering a whole host of topics. Exegetical preaching, then, is often merely *good* topical preaching by another name.

However, these are academic concerns for me. What is most pressing at the moment is the method of delivery. Is my speaking to be totally extemporaneous? Should I carry notes? What form of notes should I carry – should it be a bare-bones outline, or should I write the entire text out beforehand? Having written out a text beforehand, is it appropriate to read it before the congregation, or should it be committed to memory in some form?

Those speakers which I was most accustomed to, and whom I always admired as a child, were those who spoke freely and easily from the pulpit, with an unstudied air, wondering as the spoke throughout the entire auditorium, as though they were completely conversant with what they had to say and were set all aquiver with the power of the Word of God. In short, I admired most what I am not. While I am full of zeal and tend to dance and shout, I have a very studied mind to match my romantic soul. Valerie will vouch for me in this – ask me a question, any question at all, at any time of day or night, though you wake me at 4:00 in the morning, and I will instinctively launch into a measured treatise on the issue at hand, citing every pertinent source at my disposal, from patristics to present day, putting to use both theologian and blogger opinion.

I remember well when I was about 15, being asked to give a presentation to the youth on dance and worship. I presented them with a lecture – a defense of the performing arts in worship, citing such scriptures as Psalm 150, Mirriam’s victory dance, David as he brought back the ark of the covenant (whether he was wearing a priestly ephod or merely an undershirt). Petering out as I realized I had failed to catch my audience’s attention, my youth leader handed me a streamer and asked if maybe I could give a demonstration. *Oh,* I thought, *that kind of presentation.*

This is why I make a shoddy charismatic. In zeal and opinion, I can beat him, but in extemporaneous speaking, even *ex tempore*, I cannot meet him. My sermon on Sunday? As you read it, it was given. Essentially I read it from the pulpit, word for word. To complensate for this, in my writing I affect a particularly “free and easy” style, so that what I write may be read aloud as though it were spoken off-the-cuff. I listen to people talking and imitate their choices. I study dialogue in fiction and in drama. I study hard to make my words appear unstudied. And one day soon I hope to wander freely ‘cross the stage, glancing casually at my notes as though I almost wish I hadn’t made them.

Maybe this isn’t proper though; maybe the best sermons are better read; maybe there’s something of a lie in such affectation. I dunno. But the very fact that I can’t do that kind of speaking makes me aspire to do it. I do think I’d like to make a habit of writing everything out and posting it afterward on the web. I think it makes for a useful service.

And then, if perhaps the aural sermon isn’t exactly as was written, I’ll know that somewhere, in some form, I had three points and a poem.

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