If there is anything the world needs it is . . . safe, clean drinking water.
But if there is allowance for two things the world needs, then the second one would be . . . freedom from war and violence.
Okay, those are both true, but somewhere in the top ten needs of the world I think one of them should be better preaching. Having spent most of my life preaching, I am committed to the idea that homiletics matter and can change the world. We just need better preaching.
By better preaching I don’t mean that every sermon a preacher may preach is a life changing event for everyone–no, that is impossible. What I mean is that preaching as a whole is suffering from arrogance, insulated thinking, doctrinal narrowness, and neurotic churches. Having grown up in a time when preachers were competent in their craft, I lament to see the kind of sloppy self-serving sludge (that will preach right there–four s’s in a row) that leaves people either bored to tears or wondering what just happened.
Not all preaching is like this (thankfully our pastor is as solid as they come), but a lot of it is and the worst of the lot seems to demand the most attention, substituting their particular brand of media whore for exegesis, prayer, and careful homiletics. I don’t really blame the preachers, though. They haven’t been taught any better and they think they are doing right.
Okay, the rant is over. Now let me say what could help. It would help if every preacher in America read and studied at least one, but preferably all three of these, my top three books on preaching. If you are a preacher, read these. If you are not, give a copy of one of them to your pastor as a Christmas present.
The Homiletical Plot, Eugene Lowry
Thirty-five years ago Eugene Lowry taught us about his ‘Lowry Loop.’ A good sermon moves, like a great narrative, from Oops (something is not quite right), to Ugh (why is this so), onto Aha (that moment when things are getting clearer as to a fix) then Whee (How the gospel and biblical text impact the issue) and then finally Yeah (denouement–what the implications for our daily live are). This type of sermon style works for almost any kind of preaching a man or woman wants to do–it fits the great list makers, it fits biblical exposition, it fits topical, it fits narrative–anything you like, it flows.
The best part about the book for me is nostalgia, a bit. It is so dated that some of his illustrations from television include the old Jack Klugman show Quincy. Nevertheless his methods would help a lot of preachers.
Andy Stanley essentially swiped, in a good way, Lowry’s Loop for his book Communicating for a Change. Except, for some odd reason, Stanley included the weird story about the truck driver. It must have been to hide the Lowry connection.
Christ-Centered Preaching, Bryan Chappel
This book is boring. This book is not riveting like Lowry. However, this book is essential. Christ-Centered Preaching teaches people how to work with the Scriptures and take the basic idea in the text and form it into something you could share with others. Chappel’s book is more like a manual. However, the manual is vital because until you can do the basics, you can’t do the really cool stuff. A preacher must learn to walk before he or she can sprint and dance. Part of the problem is too many are still crawling but they think they are pirouetting.
Preaching, Calvin Miller
Miller is the only author who will appear in these lists twice, but that is because he was so gifted that he wrote well on so many different topics. Preaching might be his greatest gift to the church. It outlines what he calls narrative expostion–pulling out he text’s meaning with the use of stories. Over the years it has been my default pattern because it fits me, even before I ever read the book it fit me. This book just taught me how to do it better.
This last text here also teaches us an important lesson I wish every preacher would learn. The sermon has work to do, and the preacher’s job is to make certain that work gets done. That work is communicating the message of the text to the people in a way they understand. If the sermon fails on either end–understanding the text or communicating to people, then it is a flop.
Okay, so there are my top three books on preaching. If you want a fourth, I strongly suggest Fred Craddock’s Preaching. It is pretty awesome too. While you’re at it, maybe pick up this wonderful survey of preaching styles called Patterns of Preaching by Ronald J. Allen. Make certain you also get a copy of . . . I’m sorry. I could go on forever with this list.
I’m curious–do you have a favorite preaching book that has helped you with the craft? Please share so others can investigate it.
Lowry’s Loop image from www.dlbnn.com