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Friday, August 30, 2013

A Process for Preaching as a Spiritual Discipline

My sermon preparation process is, ironically, always a work in process. But it's important, in my estimation, for preachers to have some sort of process to guide them in the preaching life. You will find my current attempt at such a process below. One of my main goals, which I hope is evident, is to maintain my devotional connection to Christ throughout the homiletic journey. If I fail at this goal, preaching will become a rhetorical task instead of a devotional journey into the Christ who calls me to preach. When preaching moves from devotion to mere rhetoric, my preaching joy and triple love (for God, people, and scripture) diminishes.

I didn't list any exegetical, hermeneutical or homiletic resources I utilize to help me with the various movements below. Perhaps I will post my current list of resources some other time. I do, however, want you to know that I have a cloud of witnesses whose wisdom helps me to preach. The greatest resources are prayerful dialogue with God and fellowship with the community of people to whom I preach. The greatest resource to help us preach, other than prayer, is the people to whom we preach. If only we preachers can learn to listen long and hard to their hopes and hurts, dreams and disappointments, we will be able to speak an appropriate "word from the Lord" directly to them.

Well, here is one preacher's process. I know you will be able to significantly improve upon it.


Helpful Guidelines
·         While the model does not describe the spiritual formation of the preacher outside of the homiletic process, it is assumed. The preacher’s accumulated thoughts, habits, influences, and experiences will shape the preacher in profound ways, in ways that move beyond the weekly routine of preaching.
·         A good commentary or two should be consulted, but only later in the process to check the exegetical credibility of what you sense God is saying to you through the text.
·         Enjoy the homiletic process and try your best to see it as a devotional journey into the God who called you to preach the Gospel.
Movement 1: What is God saying to the original audience through the text? (Scripture)
A.        Prayerful Preparation: Pray a small portion of Psalm 119 slowly and reflectively. Ask God for revelatory insight into His word. Quiet your soul by sitting before the Lord and allowing him to remind you of his love for you and the important calling he has placed upon your life to preach Christ. Ask God to purify your preaching motives and to spiritually form you through the homiletic process so that you become the “fragrance of Christ.”

B.        Text Selection: Prayerfully select the biblical text to be preached. Be careful not to assume that you already know what God is saying through this text, even if you have preached it before. If you assume the meaning of the text and sermon focus at the outset, it will stifle the process of allowing God to speak and will remove the element of delightful surprise from the homiletic process. 
C.        Exegetical Insights: Read the preaching text several times, praying for God’s guidance, and record your reflections on the following questions:
·         What do you observe about the text as you read it through several times?
·         What questions surface regarding the meaning of the text?
·         Who is the author and what do you know about him?
·         Who is being addressed and what do you know about them?
·         What is the historical context (time and place) of the text?
·         What light does the literary context (immediate, book, and canonical) shed on the text?
·         What important words or phrases appear in the text? What do they mean and how are they used (feel free to consult dictionaries at this point)?

D.        Playful Imagination: Fast a meal and pray 30-60 minutes for imaginative insight into the text. Read the text slowly verse by verse trying to imagine yourself as an observer of the original scene. Try to see, hear, smell, touch and taste the original scene. In other words, try to prayerfully and playfully sense your way into the original context of the passage from the perspectives of the various characters in the biblical text.  

E.        Theological Reflection: Reflect theologically upon the text. How does this text intersect with the theological foundation of your Christian tradition? How does the text relate to important theological doctrines such as the Trinity, Incarnation, Christology, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, Creation, etc.? How might events, people, and writings from Church History inform your reading of this text?

F.         Text Claim: In no more than one paragraph, record what God is saying through the text to the people who originally received it. This is not the sermon focus, which would take into account the intersection between the biblical text and your preaching context. This is simply an attempt at summarizing the passage’s primary meaning in its original setting. The text claim might begin as follows: “Paul is telling the Galatians that it is foolish to look to legalism for what only faith can provide.” 

G.        Commentaries: Read 2-4 reputable commentaries on your passage. How do these commentaries confirm or challenge your reflections? What do they add to what you already observed in the text? Revise your text claim paragraph if warranted by your reading of the commentaries.  

H.        Internalize the Word: Prayerfully memorize the preaching text, or at least a main portion of it.

Movement 2:  What is God saying to me through the text? (Prayer)
A.        Lectio Divina: Read the text utilizing lectio divina. As you do, consider the personal implications of the text for your own life. Consider what God is saying to you through the text. How does the text apply to your relationships with Christ and others? How does it confirm, challenge, or comfort you? What does it reveal about God, you, and the world?
·         Lectio: Read the text slowly several times inviting God to impress upon you the word, phrase, or sentence from the text that he most wants to speak to you. Record these words.
·         Meditatio: Reflect on this word or phrase from the text and consider its intersection with your life and with other passages of Scripture. What do you sense God saying to you through this text? Give God some time to speak this word of truth into your life. Be still and let the words from Scripture fill your heart and mind.
·         Oratio: Write a prayer of response to God in light of what He has spoken to you.  This prayer can be one of thanksgiving, confession, or intercession, to name a few. Note any changes or commitments you will make to God as a result of being confronted, convicted, comforted, challenged or confirmed by this biblical text.
·         Contemplatio: This final step takes one beyond words and into intimacy with God that allows the person to actually experience the grace of the Scripture reality being studied. Don’t focus on words or even the sermon, but simply enjoy intimacy with God, resting in His presence as you reflect and worship in images and not words. What do you picture? What images does God allow to surface?

B.        Prayer Walk: Take a prayer walk around the church campus, your neighborhood, or in a nearby park or woods looking and praying for God’s glory and for His kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” through the sermon. Also, keep an eye out for physical illustrations that highlight the main thrust of the biblical text. Pray for the receptivity of listeners to the word of God through the sermon.
C.        Retro Reflection: Prayerfully and honestly reflect upon why and how you chose this text to preach. What is behind your choosing of it? Are your motives for choosing this text pure? Is there some past, present or future concern that preconditions you to choose this text and skews or enhances your reading of this text? What part did God play in your choosing of this passage? In what ways did the meaning of the text surprise you?  

Movement 3:  What is God saying to the congregation through the text? (Fellowship)
A.        Intercessory Reflections: Spend 30-60 minutes praying through the church directory and any special congregational prayer requests, incorporating the preaching text into the prayer time as often as possible. Reflect on how the text might address the joys, sorrows, hopes, hurts, sins, and dreams of people in your congregation, community, nation, and world, and pray accordingly. Prayerfully consider how God wants to guide, comfort, or confront the church through this text. What changes might God want to initiate in your church through this text? Be careful to let God’s desires for the church, and not your own desires and ambitions, determine the application of the text to the congregation you serve. Don’t force the text to say more or less than it really says. List the possible sermon applications that result from this intercessory prayer time.   

B.        Initiate Contact: Initiate contact, by phone call or visit, with 2-3 people whose life situations are profoundly addressed by the biblical text and sermon. Offer care in the form of prayer and counsel. Depending on the circumstances, you may not want them to know that the coming sermon applies to them. This, however, does not prevent you from offering spiritual care.

C.        Human Feedback: In the staff meeting, read the main preaching text and ask staff members to reflect upon how the text might intersect with their lives. Ask them to express how the text challenges, comforts, convicts, corrects, etc.  (If you don’t have a staff, you can do this with your church board, other pastors, family, or friends). Record their reflections, but ensure anonymity. If you want to share one of their reflections in the sermon, be sure to get their permission first.

D.        Sermon Focus: You have already written out the claim of the biblical text, answering the question “What did God say to them (the original recipients).” You also reflected on the question “What is God saying to me.” Now, prayerfully consider and write out, in one declarative sentence, the main focus of the sermon that will connect the meaning of the text with the context of your congregation. Reflect on the question “What is God saying to us (the congregation).” This is the big idea or main point of the sermon. This is a crucial step in the homiletic process that will hold all the parts together as one whole. Here is an example of a sermon focus statement: “Jesus shows us that the best way to respond to an imperfect Church is to love her despite her.” 

E.        Sermon Function: While the sermon focus answers the question, what does God want to say through the sermon to the congregation, the sermon function responds to the question, what does God want to do through the sermon to the congregation? What is the primary purpose, or function of the sermon? Will it be designed to inspire, inform, convict, comfort, correct, motivate, equip, etc.? Here is an example of a function statement that goes with the sample focus statement above: “This sermon will inspire listeners to love the Church despite all of the reasons not to love her.” Inspiration, then, will be the main purpose, or function of the sermon. The tone and form of the sermon should be developed to reinforce the function.     
F.         Illustrations: What stories, images, analogies, people, current events, songs, movies, TV shows, statistics, sports, jobs, animals, etc. might illuminate the sermon focus? Have fun brainstorming and listing everything that comes to your mind, even if it seems a bit odd at first. Some of the best illustrations come from our past experiences or from the stories of people in our lives. Make sure the story does not detract from but works to illumine the Word of God and sermon focus. 

Movement 4:  How can the sermon be formed to say and do what God wants to say and do?
A.        The Big Picture: Prayerfully put the sermon together by going back through your notes and listing the most significant reflections that answer the following questions: What is the main sermon focus around which everything else will revolve?  What are the most critical exegetical insights that highlight the sermon focus? What other significant theological or personal reflections have surfaced? What illustrations illumine the meaning of the text? What applications accurately flow out of the text and challenge the congregation to embody the reality of the text in their lives and community? 

B.        Prayerful Pause: Spend 15-30 minutes prayerfully asking God to guide you in ordering the parts of the sermon so that it will most glorify Him, clearly communicate the sermon focus, and spiritually form believers. This is where preachers tend to rush. At this point in the homiletic process, we have all the parts we want to throw into the sermon. We must, however, remain prayerful as we consider whether or not all the parts really fit and how they should be ordered into a seamless flow. The form of the sermon should contribute to the sermon function. Think of the parts of the sermon as a recipe in which some ingredients must come first to prepare the way for later ingredients. Pray for guidance and wisdom on this often overlooked element in the homiletic process.

C.        Structure: Now, form the parts of the sermon (i.e., exegetical insights, illustrations, applications, personal and theological reflections) into a thoughtful structural flow. Develop a one sentence idea for both your introduction and conclusion. Try to maintain conversation with God and stay attentive to the intersection of the biblical text with its original audience, your life and your congregants’ lives.
D.        Title: While the title should have attention-grabbing appeal, it is more imperative for the title to be a memorable reminder of the main thrust of the sermon, its focus. You don’t want the title to give too much away by revealing the main point of the sermon before the sermon. Rather, you want the title to remind listeners of the main point after they hear the sermon.
E.        Manuscript: Fill in the structural frame with a well-worded manuscript, allowing your language to paint a compelling picture of what it would look like for the Church to embrace the values of God’s Kingdom. Write the manuscript as if every word choice is a devotional act of worship that comes from a heart of deep love for God and for people. Don’t throw away your structural outline, since you will likely want to deliver the sermon from the outline not the manuscript.

Movement 5:  How can the preaching event foster the presence and power of God?
A.        Prayerful Practice: Prayerfully meditate on and practice the sermon, not for sake of eloquence but embodiment. Speak the sermon aloud several times, as if you were preaching it to yourself (since the sermon must impact you before it impacts anyone else). As you hear the words of the sermon consider how your voice and body can reinforce the content during delivery. Imagine the faces of the people to whom you will preach. Pray for them even as you practice.

B.        Personal Prayer: On the day of the preaching event, pray for personal purity, love, humility, and the ability to incarnate and communicate the sermon through your own life.

C.        Intercessory Prayer: Do a prayer walk around the sanctuary, praying for peoples’ receptivity to God’s Word and spiritual formation through it. Try to do this within twenty-four hours of the preaching event.
D.        Develop Prayer Teams: Maybe you can delegate the recruiting of these prayer times to someone in your church who is passionate about prayer. The following teams of people should be recruited and empowered to pray:
·         Pre-Sermon Prayer Team: to pray with the preacher before the sermon
·         Sermon Event Prayer Team: to pray during the sermon
·         Post-Sermon Prayer Team: to pray for the impact of the sermon after the sermon


Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Bully Pulpit: Courage or Cowardice

Recently Christianity Today ran an article asking, "Should Pastors Rebuke Parishioners from the Pulpit"? The article featured a clip from a sermon by a pastor from Oklahoma who basically berates and belittles people in the congregation from the pulpit. While some might view this as bold and spiritual, I can't help but see it as cowardly and inauthentic. The courageous thing to do, in my estimation, is sit down with the parishioner and disciple him or her over a cup of coffee, face to face, heart to heart. What do you think? View the clip below and let us know if you think this preacher is cowardly or courageous.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Some of My Preaching Perceptions and Practices

Here is an excerpt from an interview I enjoyed with the excellent team that runs Asbury Theological Seminary's Seedbed resource. It captures some of my preaching perceptions and practices. Perhaps this will be helpful as you explore and develop your own convictions about preaching.
Q: Dr. Luchetti, how did you become so interested in and committed to the disciplines and practice of Christian preaching?
A: God used Christian preaching to call me “out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” I was not raised in a Christian home and my annual pilgrimages to church happened on Easter and Christmas Eve, sometimes. In my late teens, my life had come as close to “rock-bottom” as I could tolerate. I began my movement toward the Christ who was already moving toward me. That’s when I was exposed to Christian proclamation. Preaching articulated my struggles and pain, as well as my hopes and dreams, better than I could have ever expressed them. Preaching made Christ flesh so that I could see and respond to him in the particular contours of my life. Preaching allowed me to view God, myself, and the world from the standpoint of optimistic grace. Preaching helped me to imagine and embody a whole new world in which Jesus Christ lives and reigns now and forevermore. It wasn’t too long after my life was impacted by theologically substantive and contextually relevant preaching, that I sensed a call to the preaching life.

Q: You’ve written a book on preaching. Tell us about that book?
A: When I began exploring texts to resource seminary students in my preaching courses, I couldn’t locate the kind of book I was hoping to find. I was searching for a book that would address the broad range of topics within the field of homiletics such as preaching and the preacher, people and place, preparation and presentation, and planning and progress. While there have been a few books like this written over the last century, I could not find a book like it that was written in the past ten years. So, I wrote Preaching Essentials: A Practical Guide in a manner that would take the best of the preaching tradition progressively into the future. The book consists of 42 short chapters with questions for reflection and/or practical exercises. I wrote the book for new and seasoned preachers who are seeking to discover or recover their God-designed preaching “voice,” and for those whose vocation is to help these preachers.

Q: What are some other sites and resources online and off you consider helpful in the work of preaching?
A: Everything sacred and secular we read, every conversation we have with God and people, every piece of music we hear and movie we view, and every experience we endure or enjoy shapes those of us who preach. I read the New Testament theology of N.T. Wright and the homiletic insights of a Tom Long and Fred Craddock, but my preaching imagination is also shaped by the reading of classic and contemporary fiction from authors like Tolkien and Tolstoy, as well as Crichton and Christie. The vocation of preaching is a call to view everything we experience through the lens of a holy, gracious, and liberating God and through the lens of a hope-hungry human race. Life itself, then, is the ultimate resource from which we preachers become prophets who speak for God to people and priests who represent the human race to a holy God.

Q: Who’s your favorite preacher, dead or alive, and why?
A:  I force myself to listen to an eclectic mix of good preachers. I listen to mainliners like Fred Craddock, Eugene Lowry, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Will Willimon. I listen to the sermons of some popular preachers like Francis Chan, Bill Hybels, and Andy Stanley. I learn a lot from black preachers like Tony Evans and Cleophus Larue. Learning from an eclectic group of preachers guards me against the temptation to clone any one of them. From the lists above I would have to say that Taylor and Stanley, who are very different from each other, are two of my favorites. Taylor is virtually unmatched in her use of poetically imagistic language to weave text and context together in ways that blur the line between the two. Stanley is clear and focused, didactic and prophetic, biblically insightful and rhetorically proficient. But I get most excited when I come across an excellent preacher in a small church that serves an obscure town.