Frank Thomas, in his important book They Like to Never Quit Praisin’ God: The Role of Celebration in Preaching writes:
Many exegetes stop at the point of discovering the what message the
author intended to convey when the text was written, find points of application for our time, and begin writing the sermon. But there is another critically important step in homiletical exegesis, and that is to ask the question of meaning: How does the message of the text give assurance of grace to the existential human condition of suffering? In other words, what good news does this text bring to the experiential suffering, tragedy, and evil in the world?
Such questions as these will force the preacher to get out of the clouds of theoretical hairsplitting and come face to face with real people facing real issues. It is here, I believe, that many Black preachers excel.
It is here, however where many of the preachers who are giving “good advice” or a motivational speech fail. They may provide tools to communicate more effectively at work, and maybe even get along better with people, but when your back is against the wall and the doctor gives a bad diagnoses there is no “good news” that will transcend even my own death.
The people have come to be fed by a word from the Lord that is greater than their pains and heartaches. Please ask of your sermons, what does your sermon have to say to those who are in the midst of Satan’s grip? What does your sermon have to say to those who are facing addictions they cannot overcome? What does your sermon have to say to those who are in the midst of domestic violence? In short, what does your sermon have to say to those in the midst of real pain?
To answer those questions correctly we must exegete the text with these issues from real life on our hearts. It we do not exegete in that way, we may provide an informative religious lecture, or some good advice to excel at work, but we will not empower the people to struggle with the powers of darkness in their daily lives.
Dr. McMickle discusses “praise” as the next reason why prophetic preaching has not been on the agenda of most preachers. Whether it is preaching conferences, journals, magazines, and church services, we are constantly given this call to praise. McMickle writes:
[T]here is a constant call to “praise God” that is seldom, if ever, followed up with a challenge to serve God in tangible ways that are benefit to our brothers and sisters, to our neighbors and friends, or to the widows, orphans, and strangers who are so constantly referenced in the Bible. Page 79.
McMickle notes that this call is constant whether on the WORD or Trinity Broadcasting Network, people of all ethnicities are calling for “praise.” We are constantly told that “when praises go up…blessings come down.” Certainly praise is important. The Bible itself tells us to praise God, but something is wrong when praise becomes an end to itself. Something is wrong when the preacher never gets to any ethical demands of the Christian life. Something is wrong when we depart the worship service without any intention to live a better life and/or to serve the community?
The kind of praise that makes no change in the life of the Christian and does not affect the community at all is a kind of worship that is a stench in the nostrils of the Most High. It was this kind of Worship that had not social implications and did not make the worshiper better that brought forth the following in Amos:
23Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. 24But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.
McMickle gives a way to balance praise and prophetic preaching in the worship service. There are four steps. The first step is to Kindle the mind. This is to encourage people to think about the topic in the sermon. The second step is to Energize the Will. Here is where we motivate the people to real concrete action. The third step is to disturb the conscience. Here we show people their need for restoration or bring them face to face with their sin. Finally, we stir the heart. It is here that we recognize the love, grace, and goodness of Jesus. Yes, we must praise, but this is no superficial praise. We must know what we are praising about. In addition, our praise should be as a result of our transformation.
In short, if praise is to be real, it is not about how loud you shout. Real praise comes as a result of an interaction with the transforming God. If we have truly met God our person and our communities will not be exactly the same as it was before we met that God. Let us stop the counterfeit praise and move on to meet the real God that will cause us to engage in real praise.
Dr. McMickle continues helping modern preachers by forcing us to ask ourselves the question: “Am I a patriot or a prophet?” A preacher cannot be both. A patriot is one who equates the policies of a political party with the voice of God. In addition, the “patriot” thinks that God’s love for America surpasses the Almighty’s love for other nations.
This kind of mindset often reduces to the idea that what is good for America is God’s will. You might hear such a “patriot” saying that God wants you to vote for McCain or even for Obama. Patriots often find themselves fighting for a political policy and losing track of God’s perspective. When we look in the Bible we find prophets standing up for God’s will even when it is at odds with the established political order. Ahab called Elijah a “troubler of Israel.” Nathan Confronted David for his adultery and murder. (2 Samuel 12:7) In addition, Samuel decided to be a prophet rather than a patriot when he confronted Saul. (1 Samuel 15:11) Let us remember that John the Baptist stood up against Herod which reminds us that sometimes being a prophet will get your head placed on a plate. (Matthew 14:11)
No, God has not called us to be beholden to political parties. We are called to be prophets. Patrick Henry is not our model as a preacher; Nathan is!! George Washington is not who we have been called to emulate; Elijah is!! Let us become the prophets that God has called us to be even if the established order does not like it.
Many people contact me wanting a step by step method to learn to whoop, here is the outline of a method.
The first thing that one should do if you want to learn how to whoop is listen to other whoopers. Just like if you want to learn how to play jazz, you must listen to others who do it well. Please note that there are different levels of listening. The first level is merely for enjoyment. Here you simply listen for things that you enjoy or that “speak to you” on some level. Another level of listening however is critical analysis. Here you seek to understand what is happening. You listen to the whooper trying to hear the pitch changes. When does the whooper change pitch. When does the whooper change the volume? Does the whooper only get loud at the end? Does the whooper get loud and soft? Another question one might listen for is a sequence of pitches. Does the whooper make use of a sequence (sometimes called a riff in music)? What about rhythm? Does the whooper change his or her rhythm?
Along with the critical analysis, the budding whooper should listen to a wide variety of whoopers. Listen to the traditional C. L. Franklin, Caeser Clark, and Jerry Black. Listen to the Harvard Whooper. Listen to the young whoopers like Marcus Cosby or Rudoloph Mckissick Jr. And listen to the whoopers who have a style totally their own like Leory Elliot. Listening to a wide variety of whoopers will help you find who you are as a whooper.
The next thing to do is to sing. There is a connection between singing and whooping. Listen to Jerry Black as he sings and then listen to how he whoops. There is a connection. Now you may not ever sing a solo, but you need to sing as a member of the congregation and as you go along. Sing spirituals, sing the great hymns of the Christian faith, and sing the Gospel Songs. Sing Andre’ Crouch and Fanny Crosby.
The important thing is that whooping has a lot in common with singing. listen to a whooping master and a great gospel singer. You will find that they both make use of vocal dynamics. They go from loud to soft and vice versa. They both make use of rhythmic changes. They speed up or slow down as needed. they both make great use of timing. They both improvise. Etc. Listen to great preachers and singers and sing.
Finally, you want to practice. Don’t go up into the pulpit without having practiced whooping. Personally, I think that all preachers should practice more. When I used to play the trumpet, I would practice 30 min – hour a day just practicing playing. Perhaps preachers should spend 30 minutes to an hour a day just practicing their presentation skills. Be that as it may, if you are to whoop, you probably should practice it. Practice in your car, practice in your shower. Jasper Williams notes that many have learned to whoop while sitting on the toilet. You want to practice. As you practice you must critically listen to yourself. Jasper Williams notes that when it sounds good to you it is ready for use.
Finally, we should look for opportunities to incorporate “whooping” into our preaching. Without forcing, slowly put some musicality in your preaching. Add rhythm to the way you say some things. Explicitly hit a note when preaching. Don’t force it. Do all your forcing in the practice room, but when you get out in front of the congregation, just preach and let it happen.
Please to succumb to the temptation of using whooping to cover up a lack of preparation. Perhaps we all have heard whoopers who obviously haven’t done the preparation necessary to preach an effective sermon to the people of God. Then these preacher simply start whooping and the people go wild. However, during the week when pain and trouble come the people haven’t been given the tools to deal with the world because the preacher decided to serve slop and then try to put cream over it. We as preachers have been called to give the word that is needed, a sweet whoop does not discharge us of this duty. If you whooop, please whoop with integrity.
Preachers of all abilities can increase their effectiveness by implementing musicality in their preaching. This resource will help you do just that.
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I am currently reading the important work by Marvin McMickle entitled Where Have all the Prophets Gone? In the book McMickle looks at 4 trends that have caused the prophetic voice of the prophets to be blunted in the Christian church.
The first trend that has served to minimize the prophetic witness in the Christian pulpit is the truncation of the message of Justice. Here the demands of Justice are limited to 1 or 2 issues. McMickle notes that among some mainline and liberal Christian groups the great tradition of activism for justice has been reduced to activism for homosexual and for abortion rights.
Certainly the demands of justice includes more than the rights of homosexuals and the rights of women. However, much of the demands for full justice which would include advocacy for the poor and those who’s backs are against the wall is set aside while these two subjects dominate the discussion.
Like the progressives, many conservatives limit the issue of justice to these two issues although they take the other side of the equation by engaging in activism against homosexuality and abortion rights. Here both sides are in a mindset that limits justice to these two issues. We spend much effort and activism on these subjects. They are important subjects, but we cannot forget the poor, the unemployed, and even the prisoner. We cannot forget those who are being held without charges because they are suspected of being terrorists. We cannot forget even the guilty prisoners who all to often are subjected to rape because we do not care to make the prisons safe for inmates. The demands of Justice includes much more than just these two issues and we have great problems when we do not recognize that.
McMickle questions why the agenda of both sides has been reduced to these two issues when the Agenda of Jesus Christ is much broader (Matthew 25:41-44). Certainly there are exceptions. There are progressive and conservative groups who advocate for prisoners rights. There are groups who are fighting against military escalation and even seeking help for the poor, but all to often both sides of the abortion and homosexual rights agenda act as if advocacy for or against these two issues fully answers the Prophets call for justice. McMcickle reminds us that they do not…