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Feed: Confessional Gadfly Posted on: Thursday, August 19, 2010 7:57 AM Author: Rev. Eric J Brown Subject: Preaching Dictum Number 1
Since I couldn't find it, here it is, Brown's First Dictum of Preaching:
You preach The Text to The Congregation.
Simple, isn't it? But you will have noted that I have three words (or words with their article) highlighted, you, text, and congregation. It is because these three things must be remembered when it comes to preaching a good sermon.
First and foremost is the text. If a sermon is to be a good sermon, it must be faithful to the text upon which you are preaching. To preach to proclaim the Word of God -- and if you are not paying attention to the Word of God upon which you are preaching, your preaching upon the Word of God won't be very "Word-of-God-y". Textual care and consideration must be given - what is this text saying, what is going on.
Now, a few things to note - this isn't reader response, this isn't "what this text means to me." No. Know your text. Know what is going on. Know what the Law and Gospel of the text are, even if they end up only being implied. Know your text.
Also, it would follow that you ought to have a text. Seriously. Preach the Lectionary - it saves your people from having to hear pious sounding rants each week about whatever bugaboo has riled you up each week. Seriously - preaching the lectionary keeps you from wandering off into your own tangential thoughts - and don't worry, that bugaboo you have will come up in the lectionary at least once a year (and if it doesn't, it's probably not a bugaboo you should be wasting people's time with).
This is the sort of thing you should have learned at the Seminary.
Second, one preaches a sermon to the Congregation. A specific, concrete congregation. This, sadly, is the thing you can't learn at the Seminary. Why? Because when you are at the Seminary, you have no congregation. You see, every congregation is different - different people, different concerns, different ways they are impacted. A hot, dry summer impacts the city Church differently than the hot, dry summer impacts the rural farming Church. Different annoyances, different fears play in.
What you are to do as a preacher is to take the text and apply it to the fears, concerns, and flaws of your congregation. That one true text needs to be applied specifically to your congregation in question. Does our Lord encourage humility in the text -- okay -- how ought that be applied to your congregation? Have they forgotten humility - then extol its import. Have they fallen into false shows of humility - then show them true humility. Are they humble, but frustrated by how humility doesn't bring them earthly gain - then commend their humility but warn of greed leading them away from humility. Whatever the truth of the text is, apply it to your people.
Above all, I have to thank my own Vicarage Supervisor, Stewart Crown, for pointing this out. We would discuss a text every day at Matins, and it would end with him asking me how I would preach this text to Trinity, Palo Alto. And I'd have to give him an outline -- and if it was too generic he would say, "You could preach that anywhere - what do you preach here?" That's the point -- if your sermon could be preached anywhere, then you haven't preached to your congregation -- and you aren't called to preach anywhere, you are called to preach to your congregation.
Finally, the last ingredient is you. Yes, you. If you are a pastor, then God has called you to be a pastor, so you should get too it. Your preaching needs to sound like you. So, what does this mean. My dad's a pastor - has a wonderful, booming voice. I don't. My college pastor was David Nehrenz, who has this suave, "cool" presence (from his folk-guitar days). I don't. My field work supervisors were Peter Cage, who is the most manly presence in a pulpit you will ever see. I don't have that. There also was Kevin Karner, who can be ironic and off handed without being grating whatsoever. I don't have that.
If I tried to preach like my father - it would be off. Likewise if I tried to preach like Nehrenz or Cage or Karner. I'm not them. I can't walk into a pulpit and preach like David Scaer - because I'm not David Scaer. I'm Eric Brown - so when I preach, it has to sound like Eric Brown preaching. Who am I? Who is this person whom God has sent to preach? Well, I'm a bit sacrastic - that will come out in my sermons; I use sarcasm more than most - but that's me. I like to ask questions - so I rhetorically ask a lot of questions in my sermons. I've lived all over the country and love colloquialisms, so I use a lot of them in my sermons - such as "all that and a bag of chips" or "burns my buttons" or "ferschnickered". Are these Oklahoma phrases - no... but they are Eric Brown phrases.
When your preaching sounds like you, it will be easier to listen to. Why? Because your people know you - they know what you sound like, how you act, what you do. If your preaching doesn't sound like you, it will just be a bit wrong. Keep in mind, I do have a preaching voice, a pulpit tone - what I am doing determines the tone, but it's still my own voice.
And there's nothing wrong with that - because God has not called Gregory Brown or Kevin Karner to be the pastor here - He's called me, so I had better put my own voice to work. This is learned only with experience and practice - whereby you can learn from the preachers you have heard without aping them.
So there it is - You preach the text to the Congregation