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Monday, July 1, 2013

Preacher: Are You a Conversational Teacher or Poetic Prophet?

Several years ago, when I was 35 and 12 years into my ministry, I experienced a midlife preaching crisis of sorts. Most people who heard me preach up to that point would likely describe me as a conversational teacher. They would say things like “you really do a good job of putting the word of God in language I can relate to and immediately apply to my life situations. You bring the good news of Christ down to my level.” But during my preaching crisis, I discovered there is a poetic prophet residing in me who wants to come out through the sermonic words I preach. What people seem to appreciate most these days about my preaching is the way I use a narrative plot-line to build tension and metaphorical imagery to paint a memorable picture. But I still think there are two kinds of preachers living inside of me- the conversational teacher and the poetic prophet. They each surface from time to time-sometimes in the same sermon. How about you? Are you a conversational teacher, a poetic prophet, or both?

While both of these preaching styles are viable, there are major differences between them. Conversational teachers intentionally tone their language down to the level of common people. Poetic prophets intentionally craft words that describe the mystery and majesty of God in artistic, profound, and intelligent ways. Conversational teachers tend to describe exegetical details in the text such as word meaning and grammatical structure. Poetic prophets typically present the overall forest of a bible passage without delving deep into an analysis of any one tree. Conversational teachers usually develop a linear point-based sermon structure. Poetic prophets gravitate toward a narrative plot-based sermonic flow. Conversational teachers almost always provide explicit life-application. Poetic prophets hint implicitly, even cryptically, at possible sermon applications. Conversational teachers want their listeners to do something; they want to impact behavior. Poetic prophets want to primarily impact the emotions of the listener. Conversational teachers usually preach longer sermons, since in real conversation we don’t seek economy of words. Poetic prophets preach shorter sermons since they painstakingly use an economy of words to say a lot and say it well. Conversational teachers focus more on anthropology, how human beings can be transformed in word, thought, or deed through Christ. Critics might say there is not enough of God in the sermon. Poetic prophets are keen on shaping the listener’s theology by describing the nature and will of God. The main critique here is that the sermon does not ground theology in the realities of human existence.    
Conversational Teacher                                                                Poetic Prophet      
-Common Language                                                                       -Artistic Language
-Micro Exegesis                                                                              -Macro Exegesis
-Point-Based                                                                                   -Plot-Based
-Explicit Application                                                                      -Implicit Application
-Want listeners to do                                                                       -Want listeners to feel
-Longer sermons                                                                              -Shorter sermons
-Anthropology                                                                                 -Theology

Andy Stanley and Rick Warren are some well-known conversational teachers. Here are links to a sermon from each of them:

Barbara Brown Taylor and Will Willimon are among some of the best poetic prophets. Here are links to one of their sermons:
Taylor: (start at 30 minutes)
Willimon: (start at 25 minutes)

After reading this article and listening to the sermon samples, how would you describe your preaching style? Are you a conversational teacher, a poetic prophet, or both?

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