One of our readers, C. Johnson, wrote a perceptive comment which reads in part:
To a large degree, what is said, heard and done (in the pulpit) is all prepackaged. Even the words that are used, are for the most part scripted long before a text is exegeted and expounded.
Too many who populate pulpits reduce the Bible to the script of the people we serve and as a result, lead them into both mediocrity and blindness.
H. Beecher Hicks in the second chapter of his book Preaching Through a Storm has a sermon entitled How to Silence a Preacher; or, Shut Your Mouth!. Rev. Hicks preached this sermon at the ordination of a new ministry. The sermon gives a few ways that a preacher’s mouth can be closed.
It is certainly a terrible thing for a preacher’s mouth to be shut. We are called to speak. If the preacher does not speak, who will? In the history of African Americans it has been the preacher who has often been the voice of liberation and salvation. It has been the preacher who has given us a word of hope to make it through the dark days. It has been a preacher who has been the catalyst for movements for change. Certainly, if it had not been for the preacher, we may not have heard the word of our salvation, neither would we have heard the word for our survival or liberation. The preacher must speak, but Hicks provides a few ways that that great voice can be silenced.
The first way that the preacher’s voice can be silenced, according to Hicks, is to allow the socio-political economic climate to blunt the preacher’s voice. Certainly today, if one stands up for righteousness one can be seen as attacking the prevailing order. Dr. King was condemned for standing up against the Vietnam war when many questioned why do it? Those few prophetic voices that stood up against the Iraq war when everyone was waving their flags testify that today you will be condemned. Today, if you question America on its racism or even state that it exists presently you can be condemned. Today, if you see structural systems of oppression against the poor and seek to remedy them, you will be condemned. It is easy for a preacher to just shut up and preach smooth things. It is easy to simply say as the old saying goes, “God Bless America…and pass the ammunition” but if the preacher doesn’t stand up, who will?
The second way that the preacher’s voice can be muted is a what we all a moral fall in the life of the preacher. When the preacher is stealing money or running women it can have the affect of muting the prophetic voice. Certainly there are some who still give the call even though their life betrays the message, but often times the voice of the preacher whose life is filled with immorality will be muted. People sometimes expect too much of the preacher, but it is right that they expect something from the preacher. We cannnot simply apply our messages to someone else and not to ourselves. If the message is to transform systems why can’t it transform us? If the message is to transform other folks out of their vices and problems, then why not us? If I might misquote the song made famous by Mahalia Jackson…It’s time for preachers to live the life they preach about in their sermons.
Another way that the voice of the preacher is muted, according to Hicks, is on the issue of women in ministry. Preacher’s who preach liberation often forget to include women in that preaching. Preachers cannot simply preach the message of equality and justice at America while we allow it ourselves. Some women have to leave Black churches to find someone to acknowledge their ministerial gifts. Certainly it is changing and there are many Black churches that celebrate the gifts of women in ministry, but too many still hold America to a higher standard than they hold themselves. The preacher can’t be silent on allowing women to minister if the preacher is to sound the clarion call of justice.
Hicks also reminds us of the congregation using money to shut their preacher;s mouth. Too many churches want a preacher who is just gonna preach sermons about the money that they are going to get or the job that they will obtain becuase of God’s goodness. Too often the preacher who preaches against individual and corporate sin will be taking their job in their hands. Some congregations will be ready and willing to vote a preacher out if she or he “steps on toes.” But a preacher can’t allow the desires of the congregation to mute the gospel message. When we all get to heaven, the sinner will be happy that you reminded the sinner of sin. That may mean that some preachers will get fired, but the preacher has gotta preach. My homiletics professor said that the preacher should always have a “just in case” fund. Just in case you get fired, you have something to fall back on. The reason is becuase preaching the message of God will sometimes get the preacher into trouble. We cannot simply be quiet to keep our jobs.
Often the people try to shut us up. But we preachers must preach the message that God has called us to preach. In the last days, this message will go forth, and will transform those who are true of heart. Praise God that there are some preachers who will not allow the things delineated by Hicks to shut them up. Let us pray that we will be one of those preachers.
Lowell Erdahl, in the book Best Advice for Preaching, quotes someone who said: “There are two kinds of preachers–those who have to say something and those who have something to say!” A preacher gains something to say by connection to the divine through the spiritual disciplines including prayer and study. Having something to say comes from an in-depth look at the scripture. Having something to say also comes from looking deeply at life as well as the congregation’s life. Having something to say comes from time and in-depth work.
However, some preachers simply “must say something.” These preachers take extreme shortcuts. They copy a sermon off of the internet because it is not important what they say, but that they have something to say. They simply look for something to “shout the church.” They grab the latest edition of a sermon magazine and preach a sermon verbatim. They have not done the work that is necessary to have something to say. Too often preachers who must say something will whoop or yell or use some other aspect of African American preaching style to hide the fact that they don’t have anything to say. Sometimes the people are shouting so loud they don’t realize that the preacher has nothing to say.
The great blessing is that any preacher who God has called can have “something to say” rather than just one who “must say something.” It is time to get back on that devotional program of Bible study and prayer. It is time to start looking at the scripture exegetically. And perhaps the hardest thing, if you don’t have something to say, make use of those others who do have something to say. Do not give the people just anything because you don’t have something to say. This weekend, find out what God wants you to say and then Preach it Preacher!
I will never forget my first homiletic class where the instructor told us to “analyze a sermon.” I had no idea where to begin and the whole idea seemed difficult. But I then found out that by analyze they simply mean look at the sermon “critically” and “closely.” Pull the sermon apart and look at the pieces individually. Then see how the pieces fit together. These are all parts of analyzing a sermon effectively. Sermon analysis works best when you are analyzing your own sermons. So in this article I want to give you some questions to ask yourself as you analyze your own sermons to become a more effective proclaimer of the Word of truth.
The first question you want to ask is what was the purpose of the sermon? Was it powerfully conveyed? Too often we either make the main point cloudy by not lifting it up high enough, or we simply do not have a decent idea of what our main point is. When you do either of these things that cloud up your main point, you will make it difficult for the people to know what you are teaching.
Was the sermon important? Some have questioned the idea that something can be true and not important. I do believe that there are things that are true, but are not important enough to be preached at this time, but you don’t have to believe that. Whether you believe everything that is true is important or not, whatever you preach, you need do clearly articulate how it is important. Don’t leave your people wondering or guessing. Help them to find this by your proclamation.
My homiletic instructor, Rev. Dr. Brad Braxton, used to tell us that we need to figuratively package the truth of our sermons into pouches that our people can take with us and use during their daily lives. It is one thing to teach truth, it is another thing to teach important truth, and it is best to present important and portable truth. Let your people bring that main point with them and be in a position to use it in their daily lives. Have you done that in the sermon?
First there are issues regarding the use of the Bible. Look at which scriptures are used. Are they used legitimately? Is it the correct scripture to use in this case? How are the scriptures used? Sometimes scriptures are used to illustrate truth. Other times they are used to establish truth. Sometimes they are illegitimately used as a springboard to what the preacher wishes to say. Sometimes the scripture even says the opposite of what the preacher said that particular scripture says. At any rate, listen to how the scriptures are used in the sermon. Ask yourself if the use of the scriptures are valid and helpful.
Related to this is the use of stories and illustrations. What stories are used to illustrate truth? Are they effective? What could be done to make the sermon better? Do the stories overpower the points of the sermon? Do the stories help the sermon?
Next you want to look at the structure of the sermon. What are the parts of the sermon? How do they fit together? What are the reasons for the parts? How does the sermon move towards ending? How is the introduction structured? There are many different ways of structuring a successful sermon, learning different methods will help you in your efforts to improve you own sermons. Always make sure that your own sermons move forward properly.
Ultimately there is not only one proper way to analyze the sermon. I am simply calling you to look very closely at the sermon. When you look at your sermons closely you may ask some of these questions, you may ask more questions, but in the end, please look closely at your sermons before and after you present them to your people.