Some of you have asked for an excerpt. Here is a snippet from the introduction:
Simon Baron-Cohen writes, “Empathy itself is the most valuable resource in our world. . . . Given this assertion, it is puzzling that . . . it is rarely, if ever, on the agenda.” If you feel nobody is listening to, or being transformed by, your preaching, I can relate. Maybe your problem has little to do with exegesis or delivery and a lot to do with empathy.
Seminary taught many of us important skills for preaching. We were shown how to exegete a biblical text by probing the literary, historical, and theological contexts. Next in the curricular lineup was the art of rhetoric. Various linear and narrative sermon forms were critiqued or commended. Then we were thrown into a somewhat sterile preaching lab where we tried our best to impress our peers and professor with voice fluctuation, gesture variety, and, of course, eye contact. Seminary professors hoped that students, in the process of learning how to preach, would develop a deep love for God, scripture, and preaching. I suspect most of us did.
There is another love necessary for preaching to reach its full potential for societal transformation—love for those to whom we preach. It’s not enough to get the biblical text, sermon form, and delivery right; the preacher must also get the listeners “right.” If not, the preacher will “prepare generic sermons for generic humanity that never truly become enfleshed in the real-life situations of particular congregations.”
Enter empathy. Empathy gives preachers the capacity, the grace really, to slip their feet into the shoes of their congregants so that they think and feel what their people think and feel. Empathy can make mediocre preaching better, and good preaching great. Without empathy, preachers cannot begin to fully know and love the people to whom they preach. Furthermore, the preacher who lacks empathy will have only a partial view of the God in whose image listeners are made. Empathy that is rooted in and compelled by the trinitarian God has the power to create a revolution in the pulpit and pew that ripples to the ends of the earth.