Notes and Links for Christian Workers Meeting – Jan. 18, 2011

The following is a rather random and rambling collection of quotes and internet links I am providing for participants of our Monthly Ministers gathering in Milwaukee, WI.   For those of you who were not a part of this meeting, you are welcome to peruse through these random thoughts for any benefit you might gain.  I promise to post up something a bit more meaningful in a few days.

Christian Workers Meeting Notes, References and Links  1.18.11

Preaching Sermons – Then and Now

How many of you plan to preach a sermon this Sunday?   How many of the rest of you expect that you’ll be in church this week and hear a sermon?

Sermons can be powerful experiences or they can be pointless.  The discussion that follows will address how we can make the most of the time spent in preparing and delivering Sunday sermons.  It is my purpose to lead us through a consideration of the benefits and outcome of sermons which are prepared with the intent of transforming and inspiring to action.  These thoughts are not based on a premise that preachers are failing miserably and need an overhaul.  To the contrary, these thoughts are offered in deep respect of the motives, the diligence and the high value preachers place upon the challenge of preaching.

According to findings by Lori Carrell among participants in the Lilly Endowed Center for Excellence in Congregational Leadership at Green Lake, Wisconsin:

Preachers prepare sermons anywhere from 5 to 20 hours.  Average prep time: 12-13 hours weekly.

Majority of time spent in studying Scripture.  Other time spent in Writing and revising, Internal Rehearsing ,  Reading related books and Creating Visuals.

From James Thompson:

The “new homiletic” is a generation old now.  We hear the call for a new approach to preaching almost three decades ago, and we exchanged the “old wineskins” of argumentative preaching for the “new wineskins” of narrative.   A revolution in homiletics occurred, meeting scarcely any resistance.  Numerous books and articles, with their chorus of voices challenging traditional views of the sermon, became the homiletics textbooks throughout North America, ensuring the impact of the new homiletics on congregations everywhere.”  2001,  Westminster John Knox Press,  James Thompson Preaching Like Paul, p. 1

From the time of Augustine, preachers turned to the Bible for the content of preaching and to Aristotle for the form and style of the sermon, entering into a marriage that was doomed to fail.  Thompson, p. 3

Whereas in the “old wineskins” of preaching in the Aristotelian tradition the task of the preacher was to “get an idea across” through rational persuasion, in the “new wineskins” of homiletic thought the preacher’s task is to lead the congregation to “experience” the dynamic of the text—including its aesthetic and affective dimensions.  Thompson, p. 3

In contrast to the older homiletic emphasis on “points”, Buttrick describes the sermon as a series of moves that are logically connected and shaped by the preacher’s awareness of how meaning forms in the consciousness of the listeners.  James Thompson, p. 6

Thompson reminds us that:  “…..if we define the sermon as an address in the context of a worship service, we do not have a single sermon in the entire New Testament.”  Thompson, p. 22

PAUL’S SERMON IN ATHENS-  Acts 17: 16-31

– This is most certainly…… NOT the full message as Paul spoke it that day.  Luke condenses it but captures accurately, we trust, the essence of Paul’s message.

– N.T. Wright rightly observes….this would have only taken 2 minutes…hardly the Paul we know who preaches till midnight..  2 Cor. 10: 5 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

I might add which led to the ugly “Eutychus” incident.

– All said….this is one of the few texts in the Biblical record of a sermon.  (Stephen’s message of Acts 7, while not a sermon in the strictest sense is a splendid example of a prolonged public address.)

Strive for Unique Ways of Covering Familiar Material

From Chip & Dan Heath   Why Some Ideas  Survive and others Die…Made to Stick,

Flight Attendant Karen Wood improvises the standard message of emergency precautions aboard airline flights:  On a flight from Dallas to San Diego….

If I could have your attention for a few moments, we sure would love to point out these safety features.  If you haven’t been in an automobile since 1965, the proper way to fasten your seat belt is to slide the flat end into the buckle.  To unfasten, lift up on the buckle and it will release.

And as the song goes, there might be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft:  two forward exit doors, two over-wing removable window exits, and two aft exit doors.  The location of each exit is clearly marked with signs over-head, as well as red and white disco lights along the floor of the aisle.    …Made ya look!

Preachers or Teachers?

“I get uncomfortable when you use the word ‘preaching,’” said a pastor from the Midwest. “It’s just not something I want my people to think of when they think of me.” The top reason provided by pastors for this teaching term was “disassociation with negative connotations.” Ministers imagine their listeners as sufferers of a collective pulpit-banging hangover. A quick word association with “preaching” had pastors in this study predicting that their listeners would say things like “manipulative,” “pressuring,” “authoritarian,” “moralizing,” “lecturing,” and “judgmental.” Still others expected listeners to conjure up images of the most egregious televangelists.    Lori Carrell, Transformative Teaching: Lessons Learned. Online Resource

What are your expectations for your learners’ spiritual growth? How do you communicate those expectations? It matters! In a recent listener communication workshop, parishioners repeatedly challenged their pastors to more “courageous” preaching.

Take note of an interesting teaching phenomenon called “grade inflation.” Professors perceive that student work and motivation are inadequate, but

as they expect less, they begin to give higher grades for mediocrity. A cycle is created, as low expectations fuel low levels of learning. If higher expectations are clearly communicated, student learning skyrockets. What educational objectives did Scripture and Spirit direct you to set for your Sunday teaching last week? Lori Carrell, Transformative Teaching: Lessons Learned. Online Resource

Lori’s Green Lake Conference Links

Lori’s Book: Lori Carrell, The Great American Sermon Survey (Mainstay Church Resources, 1999).

The following is From Chip & Dan Heath   Why Some Ideas  Survive and others Die…Made to Stick, p. 64  Chip is professor in Graduate School – Organizational Behavior Stanford University.

Heath’s 6 Key Qualities of an Idea that is Made to Stick:

1) Simplicity

2) Unexpectedness

3) Concreteness

4) Credibility

5) Emotional

6) Stories

Sermons Most Likely to Succeed in Transforming People Spiritually

1) You make a clear appeal for specific actions/changes in behaviors and attitudes

2) The sermon stays focused on a single theme

3) Even though the sermon might very well be conversational and consensual, there is an appeal based on authority.

4) A clear connection to Scripture and the Divine Agenda of God is maintained

5) The sermon focuses on the transition from a listening experience to a living experience

A few of my own observations:

1) Avoid Trendy and Gimmicky but not at the expense of relevance or helping an idea to stick

2) Avoid Ego-centrism but not to the point of being detached or theoretical

3) Avoid clichés and worn out phrases but not to the point of being obscure

4) Be careful of the “shock and awe” temptation

5) Be aware of the perils of “feature creep”  Less is sometimes more.

6) Put the hay down where even the goats can get to it.

There has been much discussion of whether or not preaching can be taught, given the fact that the preaching moment occurs at the intersection of tradition, Scripture, the experience of the preacher, the needs of a particular group of listeners, and the condition of the world as it bears upon that time and place.  It is a good question, even if unanswerable.  But the more appropriate question, Can preaching be learned? is answerable, and in the affirmative.  Fred Craddock, Preaching, p. 19-20

When the life of study is confined to “getting up sermons”, very likely those sermons are undernourished.  They are the sermons of a preacher with the mind of a consumer, not a producer, the mind that looks upon life in and out of books in terms of usefulness next Sunday.   Craddock, p. 69


An introduction should command attention.  When a minister steps behind the pulpit, he dare not assume that his congregation sits expectantly on the edge of the pews waiting for his sermon.  In reality they are probably a bit bored and harbor a suspicion that he will make matters worse.  Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, p. 160

An old woman said of the Welsh preacher, John Owen that he was so long spreading the table, she lost her appetite for the meal.  Robinson, p. 165

Keep the introduction short.  After you get water, stop pumping.  Robinson p. 165

An introduction should not promise more than it delivers.  When the preacher fails to meet the need he has raised, the congregation feels cheated.  p. 165


Some sermon crafters actually prepare the conclusion first so the sermon will proceed toward it in a direct path.  Robinson, p. 167

Directly or indirectly the conclusion asks, “So What?” or “What difference does this make”?

Do not cruise about looking for a spot to land.

A summary

An Illustration

A Quotation

A Question

A Prayer

A Challenge

A Call to Obedience

A View to God’s Ultimate Purposes

As mentioned earlier, these thoughts are rather random and without the continuity and flow of a typical blog post.  The intention is to offer access to the sources and links referenced in the presentation.  For more on preaching see an earlier post titled:  Epicenter of Grace. To all fellow preacher/teachers out there:  I am honored to be among your number.  Our work, while deeply rewarding at times, can also produce a fair amount of self-doubt and angst.  May God grant you all a sustained passion to continue in this high calling and this high privilege.

About Gary Cleveland

An old chunk of coal waiting to become a diamond some day. I spend the bulk of my time focused on spiritual development. I teach, preach and stand by the hurting and wounded. I believe our heavenly Father offers us daily opportunities to discover who we are and what we can yet become. I serve as a bringer of good news in and around the city of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
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