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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

You Know You’re Called to Preach If…

You Know You’re Called to Preach If…
Determining whether or not God is calling you to pastoral ministry is hard enough, but discerning a call to the specific ministry of preaching is extremely challenging. The call from God to preach is, in most cases, an invitation enveloped in mystery. Is there a way for the potentially called preacher to know intuitively, if not definitively, whether she/he is called to preach? I think so.
Albert Outler, Wesleyan historian and theologian, observed that John Wesley developed his theology and processed ministry decisions through four lenses: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Outler labeled this grid the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

What role has God’s word played in your contemplation of the call to preach? Are there key Bible passages that resonate deeply with you, pointing you toward the call? One of the Bible passages that impacted my call to preach is Leviticus 26:13 which reads, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” Through this verse, God was cultivating in me a passionate desire to partner with him in breaking the bars and lifting the heads of the human race through the power of Christian preaching.

How does your Christian tradition (i.e., local church, denomination) view the call to preach and the role preaching plays within the life of a congregation? What is more, do the leaders of your local church and denomination sense and support your call to preach? One of the ways the call to preach was sparked in me was through the pastor and people of my local church. They affirmed my gifts and asked me questions that initiated my wrestling with the call to preach. Are there people with the gift of wisdom and discernment in your Christian community who see in you the potential to preach the Gospel? 

A call from God inviting a human to speak words that describe the will and the way of God is too odd to be reasonable from a human standpoint. It does seem sensible, however, for the potentially called person to reflect upon how their natural abilities and acquired skills might reinforce the call to preach. What abilities and skills make your call, or potential call, seem reasonable? Remember, of course, that God does not always or even often do what is reasonable to us.

What experiences in your life have shaped you for preaching the Gospel? What challenges, disappointments, failures, accomplishments, and relationships have you encountered in life that might help you discern whether or not you are called to preach? One of the life experiences that assisted me in discerning the call to preach was that I was not raised in the church. The experience of being an unchurched, nominally religious person has given me perspective on how to connect with the same kind of people through my preaching. What life experiences point you toward and prepare you for the call to preach? 

There have been several occasions, due to fatigue or frustration, when I have wanted to quit preaching. The conviction that I am called by God to preach is often the one thing, the only thing, that gives me the audacity to keep opening my mouth in hopes that the Holy Spirit will fill it with words worth speaking. The call from God to preach not only gives the preacher audacity, but the anointing, authority, and authenticity so desperately needed for preaching today.


1. All Christians have a testimony but those called to preach also have a call-imony. Spend a few minutes reflecting upon your call to preach and write your call-imony using the outline of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

2. If you are still trying to discern whether or not you are called to preach, consult God. Prayerfully articulate to God where you are in the journey of discerning whether you are called to preach. Then, “listen” for any impressions God might give you from Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. 

3. Consult a mentor or two who can help you explore the call to preach. Schedule some time with a preacher you respect or a lay person with the gift of wisdom. Share some notes from your call-imony and invite them to speak into your life regarding the vocation of preaching.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

George Herbert's Prayer for Preachers

George Herbert (1593-1633) was a poet of the English Renaissance. He was born into the wealthy aristocracy and promised a lucrative career in politics. He chose to forego a life of fame and fortune in order to serve as the pastor of a small church in an obscure place. He wrote the poetic prayer below for preachers. What meaning do you derive from Herbert's thoughtful words?

Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?

                He is brittle, crazy glass:

Yet in thy temple though doest him afford

                This glorious and transcendent place,

                To be a window through the grace.

But when thou doest anneal in glass thy story,

                Making thy life to shine within

The holy preacher’s, then thy light and glory

                More reverend grows, and more doeth win,

                Which else shows waterish, bleak, and thin.

Doctrine and life, colors and light in one,

                When they combine and mingle, bring

A strong regard and awe; but speech alone

                Doeth vanish like a flaming thing,

                And in the ear, not conscience, ring.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Avoiding Homiletic Heresies

There’s just something about Stephen. He possesses the most important preaching characteristics. Acts 6:10 states “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he (Stephen) spoke.” The content of Stephen’s preaching (“wisdom”) and his character (“Spirit”) became a brick wall for the enemies of the Christian movement. Stephen demonstrates that when sermonic content and the preacher’s character are congruent with Christ, preaching is hard to “withstand.” Most of us would agree, I think, that wise sermonic content is a necessity for Christian proclamation. However, I wonder if the Church has forgotten the other side of the Stephen-coin, that the Christ-congruent character of the preacher is just as important as Christ-congruent content.
Do I sound a bit like a Donatist? The Donatists of the 4th century put too much emphasis on the character of the clergy. They believed that if the priest administering the sacrament of Communion was a spiritual weakling, then the sacrament would not be efficacious for the recipient. Augustine was among the chief opponents of the Donatists. He asserted that the grace of God comes through the sacrament regardless of the spiritual state of the person serving the sacrament. This historical controversy begs some pressing contemporary questions? If we over-emphasize the person of the preacher might we become homiletic donatists? Do we really want to suggest that the preacher’s character has significant bearing on the effectiveness of the sermon? Can a preacher’s sinfulness really inhibit the power of God that comes through the preaching event?

Clearly, we need to avoid extreme homiletic donatism. But, we must be just as suspicious of homiletic docetism. Docetism was a heretical belief of the 2nd century that denied the physicality of Christ. Docetism under-emphasized the humanity, or personhood, of Christ. Homiletic docetism, then, is an extreme neglect of the person of the preacher. A homiletic docetic thinks preaching is entirely dependent on divinity and that humanity, or the preacher, doesn’t matter at all to the dynamics of preaching. As long as God shows up through the preaching, nothing else matters-not even the preacher!

It seems to me that, somehow, the Church must live between the extremes of homiletic donatism, an over-emphasis of the preacher’s character, and homiletic docetism, a complete denial of the importance of the preacher. For some reason, God has decided to do his best work through a combination, a wedding together, of divinity with humanity. The Bible is the divine word through the humanity of its authors. The Incarnation is the act of divinity coming through humanity. And the sermon, as far as I can tell, is another example of our gracious God’s willingness to come to us through us, divine truth bursting through a human agent we call preacher. Stephen proves that when a good sermon, full of divine “wisdom,” comes through a good preacher, full of the “Spirit,” that the homiletic sparks fly!  
So, what do you think? Are you more prone to be a homiletic donatist who is so enamored with the holiness of the preacher that the sovereign power of God through preaching is ignored? Or, are you more likely to struggle with a homiletic docetism that ignores the role and person of the preacher in the preaching event? Does your theological tradition lead you toward one of these homiletic heresies? Most importantly, how can you avoid both extremes through your development and delivery of sermons?  
You are invited to the Festival on Preaching!      
The human hunger for life-giving, hope-inducing, and identity-shaping good news has never been more intense. Yet the complexities of preaching today are more significant than ever. The Festival on Preaching is designed to inspire and equip preachers to meet these challenges and maximize the opportunities of preaching today. On May 20-21, Wesley Seminary and College Wesleyan Church are co-hosting what we pray will be a significant investment in your preaching ministry. For more information and to register click on the following link: Festival on Preaching.