Encouragement From The Word

A cure for anemic preaching

One of my long-held convictions is that there is a lot of anemic preaching out there today.  In so many cases, as I hear about and experience myself, preaching is either weak in content or weak in communication.  These two scenarios are most common:  either the preacher speaks well and passionately and has nothing to say, or the preacher shares the Word of God accurately and faithfully but without any sort of affection.

When we get strength in both content and communication, that’s when preaching becomes powerful. And I want to encourage you, whether you’re involved in the church I am or any other congregation, to hold your preacher to a standard that brings excellence.  How?

First, expect that your preacher will bring you the Word of God with power.  Come to worship with readiness and expectation. Engage in the singing; pray with the prayers; listen to the Word; be ready to act on what the preacher says. I can tell you that good listeners make better preachers.

Second, study the passage yourself, ahead of time, if you know what your preacher will be talking about.  Each week, I put the next Sunday’s message title and text in the bulletin – not so that people will say, “Oh, that’s nice, he’s talking about…” whatever.  No, I do that in the hope that people will have a look at the passage, ponder it, and come to worship the next Sunday ready to hear from God, ready to interact with the text and with what God gave you from it through the week.

Third, don’t hesitate to ask your pastor to help you work through a Bible passage that you’ve been reading.  If a text challenges you, moves you, or confuses you, talk about it.  (You can also do this with your small group.)  Let your pastor know that you’re engaged with the Bible, and that will make him or her more engaged with the Bible, too.

Fourth, pray for your pastor.  When people tell me they pray for me, I am moved, sometimes to tears, because I know what a difference that makes in my life – and in the life of the person who prays for me.  Preaching is a spiritual act of worship for the preacher and for the listener.  God can and does move by his Holy Spirit in amazing ways through the act of proclamation and intentional listening.

When you do these things, holding your preacher to a higher expectation of preaching that is both transformational and passionate, it’s amazing what the Holy Spirit will do with the church.

When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.  I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling.  And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.  I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2.1-5, NLT).

This week, I’m working through The Art of Better Preaching, a course by Carey Nieuwhof and Mark Clark.  It inspired me to write this.  If you’re a preacher, I encourage you to take this online course.  (Nobody paid me to say that, I promise.)

God’s best for your weekend.  How will you change how you listen to preaching?

Encouragement From The Word will return on August 24.

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: “KINDLING DESIRE FOR GOD” by Kay L. Northcutt

You know how, every once in a while, you go shopping for one thing and come home with more than you bargained for? That happens to me when I visit Amazon. Their version of the “up-sell” is that section on the page for the book you’re interested in that says, “People who bought XYZ also purchased…”.

It’s a trap. Really. But when you’re stricken with bibliophilia, as I am, it’s an inevitable trap.

That’s how I came across Kindling Desire for God. Had I known much about the author’s theology, I probably would have skipped it. But, as so often happens, the subtitle got me: “Preaching As Spiritual Direction.” As both a preacher and a spiritual director, I had to know what this was about. So I bit.

Amazon wins again. But, in truth, so did I.

Kay Northcutt is a preaching professor at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a certified spiritual director. While I would not share her theological position, I greatly appreciate how she handles this different paradigm for preaching.

As a preaching professor, the author is exposed to all manner of different preaching styles, and this book seeks to help preachers, whether certified spiritual directors or not, to see preaching as a form of spiritual direction. All pastors, whether trained in spiritual direction or not, do undertake a measure of it by virtue of office, and that can extend from the study to the pulpit.

To that end, Northcutt seeks to encourage pastors to reclaim the authority that is rightfully theirs, spiritually – to move from being problem solvers to being spiritual guides. The authority, though, is seen not in CEO terms, but is “grounded by prayer, intimacy with God, and an explicit knowledge – as well as felt experience – of being the ‘God-person’ and the spiritual guide for congregations” (58).

She laments the loss of what she calls our “own inherited texts” – not only Scripture, but the early church mothers and fathers,41cSqihmgHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ and spiritual classics. We would rather quote Jack Welch than Julian of Norwich. We would rather cite Oprah than Origen. The author encourages preachers to make their preaching a spiritual act. At the end of the book, she offers some examples of her own preaching, showing how preaching can be a form of spiritual direction.

I would not suggest that these sermons are models of outstanding biblical exposition, but there is a pastoral, spiritual element to them that all preachers could learn from.

If you’re looking for a different kind of preaching text, give this one a try. If nothing else, it will call you to a deeper relationship with God – something every preacher and congregation can benefit from.

Kindling Desire for God: Preaching as Spiritual Direction by Kay L. Northcutt. Published in 2009 by Fortress Press in Minneapolis. ISBN 978-0-8006-6263-9.