I made it back from Windermere Retreat Center today after a retreat dealing with the subject of preaching and homiletical headaches. Mike Graves, our guest presenter, did a great job pulling out some material from his book entitled The Fully Alive Minister. Graves caught my attention immediately when he said “It’s hard to be fully alive when you’re half dead.” He led our discussion Monday and then Bo Prosser from CBF National took over this morning.
Prosser connected with his view of humor and the sermon, indicating its importance to break down barriers and cultivate the spiritual soil for the message to take root. He rightly added the great challenge of doing humor well and making sure it relates to the overall direction of the sermon. I agree that humor is an important tool and finding the right balance between humor and seriousness is important. Too much humor and folks don’t take you seriously.
Even though I’m behind the pulpit most Sundays, there was a time when I sat in the pew on a regular basis and somehow managed to suffer no long term ill effects. So, it’s important for a pastor to seek not to entertain but enlighten the congregation by telling the biblical story while weaving it into the 21st century story that we are writing even now. Both Graves and Prosser referred to sermon preparation as an art form and that resonated with me. It is a craft, one of many responsibilities that pastors have to do each week. Thus the analogy of “keeping all the ministerial balls in the air.”
I know there are those preachers who think that expository preaching is the ONLY biblical approach to sermon preparation and presentation. There are other techniques out there and in each case the specific needs of the congregation should be considered. I respect this approach, but do not believe it is the only one or most effective. Jesus told stories, and his audiences were amazed at what they heard. Prosser said he wondered if his audiences “had been phased, let alone amazed” at his preaching. That comment prompted knowing laughter.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my preaching professors at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary who endured hundreds of attempts at sermons from their students while trying to teach us how to communicate the gospel. I am especially thankful to Harold Bryson for his influence and introducing me to a variety of approaches at a pastors’ conference in Lauderdale County, MS. He encouraged us to read Fred Craddock and listen to his sermons (by the way, it’s hard to overstate the importance of Craddock’s influence on contemporary preaching). That man is a master preacher, one of the best in the United States I believe.
This retreat came at a good time and reminded all of us to take what we do seriously while not taking ourselves too seriously. Preaching is still important, and finding interesting ways to communicate the gospel is an ongoing task. It’s a work in progress. It didn’t hurt to connect with some CBFMO and BGCM folks along the way too.