What Is The Black Preaching Tradition?

736px-15th-amendment-celebration-1870In the last week or so, I have had a couple of conversations regarding the Black Preaching Tradition and using it to improve sermonic construction, delivery, and reception.  One Black Preacher, when he found out that I was the primary contributor to SoulPreaching.Com, told me that he was seeking to implement elements of the tradition.  He then began to talk about some of the media preachers.  This preacher even called one of these media preachers a genius in Black Preaching. I asked him what was so appealing about the preacher. He then talked mostly about stylistic concerns.

My preacher friend fell into the trap of thinking that the Black Preaching Tradition is only about style.  He wanted to “preach black” and thus he attempted to incorporate the style of the popular preacher.  Certainly there is nothing wrong with learning from others, but we must not fall into the trap of thinking that this is all there is to the tradition.  Certainly there are stylistic concerns.  But there is also the tendency of the Black Preacher to address certain themes.  The tendency to look from the angle of the underdog and those who live “with their back against the wall.”  There is a tendency, in Black Preaching, to see the practical rather than a theoretical angle.  There is a tendency, in sermons according to the tradition, to see God on the side of humanity in real ways.  These concerns, and many other important ones, were lost on this preacher as he was attempting to just emulate the style, a style that can be used to preach anything, including things antithetical to the Gospel as well as what God has traditionally used the African American Preacher to preach.

In the seminar that I just presented, we talked about the Black Preaching Tradition in terms of Style, Sermonic Structure, Bible Interpretive Approach, and Common Folk Theology.  These dimensions are all aspects of the tradition.  To diminish or ignore one is to not address the full counsel. Someone may shout. Someone may whoop, but that don’t make them stand in the line of the great tradition that gave us birth.  Let’s be true to the whole tradition and not abuse it for a “cheap shout.”

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  • Sherman L Helton Jr

    Great article many young preachers even some seasoned preachers that I have come in contact with believe in style over substance. Although we must show some practicality with our illustrations & themes but never lose the integrity of the theological message.

  • Jimmy Stanfield

    Strangely I have the opposite situation. While I grew up Pentecostal with all the emphasis on style that goes with that, I went to a Southern Baptist Seminary where it’s totally the opposite. At seminary style in preaching is not encouraged and seldom addressed and the emphasis is entirely on correctly expounding the text. The first preaching class I took I held my emotions back and just concentrated on preaching or teaching really. By the time I had to take the second preaching class I just got tired of trying to be somebody I was not and I let loose on them and whooped and preached like the style I’d grown up in. What a shock to the professor when normally less emotional seminarians where standing up and yelling “amen” and “preach it” They were surprised but pleasantly surprised because at the same time I had correctly and properly expounded the text and had not strayed off out of the text so they observed that style and substance don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

  • Sherman Haywood Cox II

    Yes, when done at its best style and substance are not mutually exclusive, they are interdependent.

  • Jimmy Stanfield

    Another thought is that in preaching without even considering style (as is the case where I went to seminary) we wind up preaching merely to inform. In other words, just concentrating on substance alone will end in you merely conveying information. Preaching with style and substance will end in you conveying inspiration! And to inspire the saints to faith is surely one of the ends for which we preach.

  • reginald lawrence

    My experience comes from a professional career in public speaking that spanned 40 years. For most of that time I was very active in the local church; teaching, serving as an usher and deacon, etc. When I began to preach I found that I was conveying information and rarely touched the congregation’s emotions. That was true even when I became very emotional. As time has passed, I am more responsive to the Holy Spirit’s impact on my emotions and I find that to be a direct avenue to the hearts of the hearers. I strive to inform and move as I have been informed and am being moved. I try to bring my past and present experience into the present preaching moment. My ‘style’ however is totally personal.

  • WysWoods

    I came to the article today after the changed time email and I reread it because I recently preached in a church and one of the members said she was surprised she learned something because she had already judged my sermon because she knew my denomination. One of the barriers to learning from a sermon is forming opinions because of prior interactions. We preachers are guilty too so I learn from the work that you do and share with us.

  • angela

    Whether that preacher is white or black doesn’t matter to me. I attend church every Sunday and regularly during the week. I get the most @ bi ble study because I’m n ot distracted by the threactrics. Sometimes all the “can I get a witness”, “can i get a amen” and the musical fanfare confuses me. I feel like a fool sometimes. People say “the spirit show fell in here or the holy ghost moved when he preached”. half of the time I’m like really. Am I the onnly one?

  • Sherman Haywood Cox II

    Hello, Are you saying that “style” is all there is to the Black Preaching Tradition? such an idea is highly problematic and this very article you are commenting on argues against that idea…

  • JT

    @Angela….I love bible study as well…but with everything in life….there is a culture. Black church life has a culture, white church life has a culture, your doctor’s office has a culture. I would encourage you to get the good out of the sermon and the man or woman of God. No offense but maybe your not getting much out of the service because your not putting anything in it. Perhaps….(again no offense) you are to focused on the “can I get an amen” ect that you are missing the spirit falling upon the church and you…..Just food for thought.

  • dj

    I agree with Reggie Lawrence as preachers we can focus to much on style or substance and sometimes the focus can be on ourselves it’s my prayer everytime I stand to preach after I have studied and prepared a sermon that the sprit will use me and that the word reaches the heart of the hearer also I believe some of the responsibility is on the hearer “he that have an ear let him hear” though I am a preacher there are times where I also am a hearer in the worship service and regarless who’s preaching,their style,their substance,race,denomination etc. I’m asking God to speak to my heart

  • Darryl Thorpe

    I read the booklet “Last Minute Preacher’s Guide”. You spoke about “plagiarism”. I believe as a Preacher your intergity should hinder you from doing such a thing. However, Pastor Walton Marsh wrote a booklet “How to Adapt a Sermon” (using other’s Sermons Honestly & Effectively). He also agrees with the issue of plagiarism. In his booket he noted the following.

    – Sermons advertised are for use “who else but preachers will use them” and they are advertised for that purpose.

    – He says you don’t use their wording but you can use their outlined points and as he simply puts it “put your own meat to the bones”(outline being a skeleton).

    – He emphasizes studying the text of the sermon and as you indicated in Wave 1 of your interpretation of the text. Make notes and if there is an illustration make note of that etc. And make sure if you use any exact wording, quotes, etc. that you give the appropriate credit.

    – Then proceed with any additional exegsis needed, preach (practice) the sermon that has now been “re-created with your flesh, personality, and experience with God”.