Teresa Fry Brown has written up notes to a lecture delivered by Charles Adams. These notes can be found on page 164 and 165 of her book Weary Throats and New Songs. How to deliver sermons was the subject of the lecture. The second point that Brown brought out was to “never apologize for the sermon.”
Many congregants have heard sermons littered with apologies for the content of the message. Brown notes a couple of common apologies. Sometimes preachers will say, “I know you don’t want to hear this but….” before saying something that the preacher anticipates will cause opposition in the congregation. Another statement often spoken by preachers guilty of this infraction is “I’m sorry but…”
The preacher has been given a word from God to speak to the particular people at the particular place. If the preacher drops apologies into the word it will bing into question the origin of the message. You have done the exegesis, you have prayfully constructed the sermon. The Spirit has been invovled in the whole process. At that point it is time to stand up and unapologetically preach the message. Certainly you will make mistakes, but don’t undercut the whole message by apologizing for what God has God has given you to preach.
Dr. Charles Adams presented a class entitled “Preaching, Black and White.” During one of the lectures he gave some “do’s and don’ts.” Teresa Fry Brown wrote up notes from that lecture on page 164 and 165 of her book Weary Throats and New Songs. These were to help the preacher deliver their sermons more effectively. In the next few posts we are going to discuss these very important pointers.
The first point is to “Avoid being dull, tedious, or laborious.” Then Adams (through Brown) stated that “Vocal energy paired with sound theology and knowledge of language give life to a sermon.” There are three components to this pointer that all deserve some illumination.
First there is vocal energy. Here I think that Adams is getting at what I try to speak of as “sermon intensity.” Here the preacher simply lets the natural enthusiasm of the preacher come through. If the preacher is not enthused about the message, then the preacher is not preaching the right message. Now one should hasten to add that enthusiasm will demonstrate itself in different ways as the different preachers allow their individuality to show, but there will be enthusiasm.
The second component of Adams’ point is that there should be a “sound theology.” This point is largely about theological integrity. I have a friend who is very frustrated with his pastors preaching. The sense of frustration does not come from a disagreement with his pastors theology. His frustration comes from the totally theologically inconsistent preaching that his pastor gives. One day he is preaching a point, and the next week he is preaching the exact opposite without even referring to the possible inconsistency. Now Adams was probably speaking of having a correct theology, or at least one that majors in the majors of the Biblical message, but I think if we push Adams’ idea a bit further we can say that one’s theology should at least attempt to be consistent. Certainly it will never be totally consistent, but integrity reminds us that we should at least explain the struggles we are having rather than to pronounce some truth one day and then a week later pronounce the opposite. A good book to help the preacher work through his or her theology is Claiming Theology in the Pulpit by John McClure and Burton Cooper
Finally there is knowledge of language. I think that Adams is attempting to speak about simply knowing how language works. Here we might take into account a knowledge of not just language, but also how people process and hear sermons particularly. For example, people cannot remember a ton of unrelated facts, so a sermon that engages in additions that are irrelevant to the main point are simply wasting the time of the preacher and the people. It would at least make it more difficult to determine the main point of the sermon.
I remember hearing a preacher once who let his enthusiasm come through and even had a reasonably sound theology, however his sermons were very hard to listen to. You would feel fatigued after hearing one of his sermons. After some analysis, I realized that the preacher did not make good use of this knowledge of language. He put in a ton of irrelevant side notes that detracted from his message to the point that people simply gave up finding a point. To avoid being dull, let us wed all of these points together in our proclamation of the gospel.
Henry Mitchell’s book Celebration and Experience in Preaching provides 2 very important sermonic structural components that can guide the preacher in structuring Black Sermons. The first component is celebration. Mitchell argues that celebration is the pervasive distinctive that Black preaching brings to the homiletic universe. Black preaching appeals to the emotive and the intuitive to promote a holistic celebration of the Gospel. I have written on Mitchell’s celebration idea in this article.
The second component of Mitchell’s book is a discussion of what he calls the “genres of preaching.” These are different structures that effective sermons in the Black tradition take.
Vincent Wimbush, in his book The Bible and African Americans, provides a way to analyze how the Bible is operative in the Black sermon. You can read about Wimbush’s description of Black Bible reading at this link. Cleophus LaRue, in his book The Heart of Black Preaching, provides a way to analyze how Black culture is addressed in sermons. I have written on LaRue’s way of doing this at this link. Mitchell gives us a way to look at how these two perspectives are brought together in a sermon. Many of Mitchell’s sermon types are simply variations on a narrative theme.
The first genre is narrative. Here the preacher preaches a sermon like a story. There must be a protagonist, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. Then at the end of the sermon there is a celebration of the resolution.
The second genre is the character sketch. Here the preacher presents one character of the Bible and preaches that character. The preacher must look at many places in the Bible to piece together the sketch. In addition, the preacher will have to use imagination to fill in gaps left by the Biblical record.
The third genre is the group study. This sermon type is just like the character study only we look at a group instead of an individual. Just like the character sketch the preacher will look all through the Bible for references to put together the story.
The forth genre is the dialogue type. In this type of sermon you bring a real conversation from the scriptures into the pulpit. The next one is the Monologue and Testimony. This is like the dialog only you take one side of the conversation and tell it. It is a story in the first person.
Another important genre is the metaphors similes and analogues. Here the preacher uses one of these to build a sermon around. An example might be the metaphor of a bridge and then you can talk about how the bridge demonstrates your sermon. Another example would be to use the car as a metaphor. Here the preacher might take each major component of the car and make it a point in the sermon. Finally there is stream of consciousness sermon. Here the preacher simply jumps into the scripture and walks around and follows the scripture.
To create the sermon you must internalize the text. You must be able to look at the sights in the text. You must smell the stench or perfume in the text. This type of preaching is not only intellectual, but also experiential. You have to really live in the text to get the details out of it that you need to preach these kinds of sermons. Click here to listen to an audio about how to really experience the text.
Next you must have a behavioral purpose to a sermon. You need to know what you are trying to say and why. You cannot just preach without a purpose if you are to be an effective preacher in the Mitchell Method.
Finally, you need to close with a strong celebration. You should celebrate the gospel in the sermon if you are to be a strong preacher making use of Mitchell’s method.
I was listening to a preacher who tried to use a “whoop” to hide his lack of preparation. In this audio I give a few principles for whooping with integrity. If a preacher follows these principles he or she will be on the way to not just whoop, but whoop with integrity.