Wanted: Catfish for Our Think Tank

What is needed are holy healthy places for thinking, interaction, and engagement without intellectual prejudice or divisiveness. We need think tanks more than we need labs. Our Evangelical Homiletics Society is not so much a lab as it is a think tank. A think tank consists of a body of experts who share ideas and advice to advance a chosen field of research and application. Unlike medical labs, think tanks are messy places. Not all ideas gain traction there. Advice can come off as criticism.
Sacred cows get slaughtered. Presuppositions are called into question. Novelty is neither embraced for novelty’s sake nor rejected on the same grounds. Catfish swim freely in healthy think tanks. By their presence, resistance, and “convince me” attitudes, they keep their colleagues’ minds from growing soft and mushy

Preaching to People in Pain

For this conference, Jesse Nelson asked me to speak about a new publication, Preaching to People in Pain. This book released in May of 2021 with Baker Academic. It’s a book that has long been on my heart as someone who has pastored people who are broken and hurting. How many of you have broken and hurting people in your churches today? I can assure you that all of us do. I remember pitching the book idea to Baker initially proposing the title of Pain-Full Preaching: Sharing Our Suffering in Sermons. For whatever reason, the marketing team relayed back that Pain-Full Preaching may not sell so why don’t we title it Preaching to People in Pain: How Suffering Can Shape Your Sermons and Connect with Your Congregation. Steve Norman is a pastor who has been writing
thoughtfully about preaching. In his new book, The Preacher as Sermon, published by Preaching Today, he shares a mantra for his ministry which is this: “Never underestimate the pain in the room.” This evening I don’t want to underestimate your pain or the possible pains that you’ve been going through over the past two years or more. They’ve been a very difficult two years for many of us. Ministry has not looked the same for any of us.

Preaching Hope and Lament from the Psalms

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast with in me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan . . . Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:5-7). Hope and lament. Usually, the order is reversed, as in Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD,” verse 1. Verse 7: “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” Lament and hope. In psalm after psalm we find this pattern: the petitioner begins: “How many are my foes! How long will you hide your face from me? Why do you stand afar off? God, I don’t understand, I don’t like, and I’m not about to acquiesce to this current state of illness, distress, injustice, persecution, danger, loss. But—(so much Gospel in that little word!)—I trust you. I know you are faithful to your promises. I wait in hope for the LORD, he is my help and shield. I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Be strong and take heart all you who hope in the LORD. Lament and hope.

The Culture of Note-Taking and Effective Sermonic Technique

Sermon note-taking has long been practiced in various “church cultures,” and some may wonder about the future of the practice. Challenges to note-taking include secondary orality, the emergence of the digitoral generation, and the technologization of the world. This paper, engages with homiletics, systematic theology, communication studies, and discipleship studies to demonstrate the relevance of note-taking for enhancing listener engagement during the sermon. First, ,this paper will suggest a biblical and theological premise for note-taking. Second, it will investigate the relationship of note-taking to good listening and journaling. Third, it will describe methods of effective note-taking for both oral and digitoral sermon hearers. Fourth, it will discuss the criticism that note-taking is a distraction to the listeners. This paper will show that note-taking is still practiced by church-goers, and that while it should be encouraged, it should not be forced on worshippers in any way.

The Adoption of Communication Theory in Homiletics

Communication theory grew out of the mathematical theories of Claude Elwood Shannon and Warren Weaver. In the two decades that followed, their theories were carried forward by the likes of Fearing Franklin, Milton Dickens, Wilbur Schramm, and others. Since then, numerous homileticians have taken notice of communication theory and adopted theorized models for speech-communication and mass-communication into their own homiletics writings. Examination of relevant works in homiletics reveals the communication models adopted in the last fifty-five years have remained mostly unchanged in that time. The present article reveals the extent and the static state of the adoption of communication theory in homiletics.

When Clergy Preach and Teach on Suicide: Do Listeners Hear?

Clergy have a key role in suicide prevention by ministering to people struggling with suicidal thoughts and behaviors and performing suicide funerals and memorial services. However, it is not clear if clergy preach or teach on suicide-related topics and if congregants hear them preach on these topics. It is also unclear if clergy and congregants in three religious traditions differ. Convenience samples of U.S. Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant participants (471 clergy and 703 congregants) completed online surveys on 15 preaching and teaching topics. Five topics were
clearly suicide-related (moral objections to suicide, asking about suicidal thinking directly, how to care for loved ones after a suicide death, why people of faith have mental illness, and how
they heal) and the rest were topics that covered protective factors for suicide but were less clearly related to suicide (why people suffer, how to manage suffering, why/how life can have meaning, reasons for living life, how to build a life worth living, why/how religious people have hope, the importance of belonging, how to manage conflict, self-esteem and self-care). Clergy reported preaching and teaching and congregants reported hearing significantly more topics that are perceived as unrelated to suicide as compared to suicide-related topics. Clergy reported preaching and teaching on all topics (both suicide-related and those perceived as non-suicide-related) significantly more than congregants reported hearing the same list of topics. Catholic and Protestant clergy and congregants reported that their clergy preached and taught more on all topics compared to Jewish clergy who may preach more on striving to live a moral and ethical life. While Protestant clergy reported they preach and teach on all topics, their congregants do not report hearing the suicide-related topics

Book-Level Meaning: A Neglected but Essential Tool for Preaching

In the realm of homiletics, much attention is given to the understanding of the particular details of a passage, as well as how that passage speaks Christologically, within its canonical context. While these are needful elements of the hermeneutical and homiletical enterprise, one must also understand a passage within the context of the book it is contained in. Book-level meaning allows authorial intent to be guarded at the macro-level, considering not merely a passage or chapter, but how such a unit of thought fits within the entirety of the author’s distinctive approach and argumentation. This article will contend that book-level meaning serves as a key hermeneutical tool that should be used in preaching in ways that are exegetically faithful and witness to Messiah and our calling to follow him in accordance with the author’s intent

Biblical Language and the Language of Preaching

Language changes—not just the English language, but every
language. Some languages change more rapidly than others. In
general, the more contact with other languages, the more rapid the change; in our time, the more language is mediated by advertising agencies and the entertainment industry, the more vapid the change. In a decadent culture, media-conditioned to the lowest standard of verbal intelligence, a degeneration of meaning and diminishment of comprehension corresponds to our evident loss of cultural memory. In a Christian sub-culture such as ours, this puts the very foundations of our faith in peril, for if the Scriptures are not received with understanding a vacuum is created and that vacuum tends to get filled with rubbish.