John Wesley once said he did more good preaching one day while standing on his father’s tomb than he did for all the many days he preached from a church pulpit. (See picture in blog header for an illustration of this.
He’d been denied preaching from a pulpit because of the doctrines he insisted on preaching with great energy. So, he climbed on top of his father’s tomb in the church yard and preached to the crowds.
Last week, I heard an early Pentecost sermon that emphasized the message that the church became the church when it was gifted with the ability to preach in the languages that people could hear. When I reflect on this story about Wesley, I think 18th century field preaching was a kind of Pentecost preaching. The language was not changed, but the mode was. Preaching was made audible to the people so that it might be heard.
I’m often not creative enough to figure out how to carry the examples of the early Methodists into our own context. I am too wooden and literal in my attempt to think about applications. But as Pentecost approaches, I am convinced this kind of pentecostal preaching is needed among us. We need to preach in the languages people can hear. We need to find modes and places of preaching where it can be heard.
In all this, we must not abandon the gospel and our convictions about it. We don’t want to confuse speaking in a language that people can hear with preaching “peace, peace” when there is no peace.
But how do we find the boldness to follow John Wesley’s example to climb upon the tomb’s of our fathers and preach the gospel in languages and ways that allow it to be heard to the millions among us who do not hear it today?
In 1745 and thereafter, John Wesley exchanged a series of letters with a Mr. John Smith, who the editor of my copy of the works of Wesley notes is generally presumed to have been the Bishop of Oxford writing anonymously.
In one of the letters, the bishop accuses Wesley of deviating from the teachings of the Church of England. Smith criticizes Wesley for always appealing to the official doctrinal standards of the church in defending himself from such charges. The Articles of Religion of the Church of England and the Homilies were adopted in the 16th century. Smith writes that he is accusing Wesley not of deviating from those, but of deviating from the doctrines as actually preached in the 18th century Church of England, which presumably did not reflect the official doctrinal standards.
Well, how blind was I! I always supposed, till the very hour I read these words, that when I was charged with differing from the Church, I was charged with differing from the Articles and Homilies. And for the compilers of these, I can sincerely profess great deference and veneration. But I cannot honestly profess any veneration at all for those Pastors of the present age, who solemnly subscribe to those Articles and Homilies which they do not believe in their hearts. Nay, I think, unless I differ from these men (be they Bishops, Priests, or Deacons) just as widely as they do from the Articles and Homilies, I am no true Church-of-England man.
This exchange struck me as quite similar to our situation in the United Methodist Church. We have our doctrinal standards that were established a 200 years ago. By every official word, they are the standard of teaching in our churches. But they bear little actual influence throughout a great number of our churches.
To be a true United Methodist, then, should we reflect the preaching and teaching of our day or — if it differs — the doctrinal standards set out in our Book of Discipline?
Craig Adams has overcome his aversion to offering preaching advice to share his thoughts about preaching and sermon preparation. It is worth your time to read, ponder, and perhaps argue with.
Here’s a taste. Adams says time spent in crafting a sermon is often wasted.
Why is that? Because the number one rule for preaching (and public speaking, as well) is: have something worthwhile to say! If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, no amount of sermon technique is going to save you. You are dead in the water. On the other hand, if you’ve got something worthwhile to say — and you are excited about saying it — you’ve still got a good message. Good technique can make a good message better. But, it can’t save a boring or pointless or vacuous message. That is still boring. (And, don’t bother with the Power Point, either.)
My summer reading this year includes a book about making effective presentations by Nancy Duarte. I started skimming it a bit this morning just to get my bearings.
Early in the book she lays out a timeline for developing a one-hour presentation that includes 30 slides.
6-20 hours: Research and collect input
1 hour: Build an audience-needs map
2 hours: Generate ideas using sticky notes
1 hour: Organize the ideas
1 hour: Have colleagues critique or collaborate about the impact ideas will have on audience
2 hours: Sketch a structure and/or story board
20-60 hours: Build the slides
3 hours: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Total: 36-90 hours
I think I read once that Adam Hamilton spends 10-20 hours per week developing his sermons, which tend to run 30 to 40 minutes. If you take out the 20-60 hours to build PowerPoint slides from Duarte’s list, then Hamilton fits in the lower end of her time frame.
Even adjusting down for the fact that my sermons tend to run 12-17 minutes, I know that I do not cover her bases. I’m curious what thoughts and reactions other preachers have to Duarte’s ideas.
So what does Easter mean?
Well, here is what the preachers in the Book of Acts said as they explained the meaning of the resurrection and the response it calls for:
Peter on Pentecost:
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. … Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36, 38, NIV)
Peter before the Sanhedrin:
Then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is the stone your builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:10-12, NIV)
Peter at the house of Cornelius:
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:42-24, CEB)
Paul in Pisidian Antioch:
We proclaim to you the good news. What God promised to our ancestors, he has fulfilled for us their children by raising up Jesus. … Therefore, brothers and sisters, know this: Through Jesus we proclaim forgiveness of sins to you. From all those sins from which you couldn’t be put in right relationship with God through Moses’ Law, through Jesus everyone who believes is put in right relationship with God. (Acts 13:32-33, 38-39, CEB)
Paul in Athens:
God overlooked ignorance of these things in times past, but now directs everyone everywhere to change their hearts and lives. This is because God has set a day when he intends to judge the world justly by a man he has appointed. God has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31, CEB)
Stanley Hauerwas from a commencement speech at Eastern Mennonite Seminary:
Scripture, of course, is the source as well as the paradigm of Christian speech. What we say must be said faithful to the language of Scripture. That is a complex task because it is by no means clear how the many ways of expression in Scripture are to be said coherently. The investigation of that process is called theology. But theologians are often tempted to say too much because of the reticence of Scripture, the refusal of Scripture to tell us what we think we need to know, drives us crazy. I sometimes think that the work of historical criticism, essential work for helping us read the Scripture faithfully, is a rage against the silences of Scripture. Why do not the Gospels tell us what Jesus is “thinking.”
In Working With Words: On Learning to Speak Christian
Francis Chan said that if he had only one thing to tell people about, it would be to speak of the holiness of God — which he said almost no one really gets right.
One thing I admire about Chan in this video is the way he speaks what he feels is the necessary truth in a way that strikes me as loving and humble.
I notice as well, I’ve been linking to a lot of Calvinists recently. Where are the Wesleyan preachers talking and preaching in serious ways about holiness, sanctification, and other Wesleyan themes?
I picked up a copy of John Stott’s preaching book, Between Two Worlds. It was published in 1982, but does not feel dated to me. Perhaps Indiana in 2012 is like England in 1982 when it comes to preaching and the life of the church.
At the heart of his book on preaching, Stott calls for two things: conviction and bridge-building.
First, he pleads for preachers to have conviction. Conviction about who God is and does. Conviction about the authority and inspiration of the Bible. Conviction about the need for preaching pastors in the life of the church.
Second, he summons preachers to be bridge-builders, connecting the Bible to the life of the people who gather to hear it read and expounded upon. He knocks conservatives for preaching the Bible without making any connections to the world in which people live. He knocks liberals for preaching the questions and concerns of the world without significant contact with the Bible.
While his second point resonates, it is his first point about conviction that hits most home for me. So much of the preaching advice and counsel I read these days suggests we need to start with an acute awareness of the doubtfulness of what we preach. The congregation gives the Bible no real authority, and certainly does not give the preacher any, so we must approach them at angles and lure them with promises that what we offer will make their lives better.
Stott argues counter to this. He writes that preaching must emerge from strong convictions about God, Scripture, the church, the pastorate, and preaching itself. If it does not, he writes, it is folly and arrogance.