March 14, 2009

Real sermons

Kevin Sam has written an important blog post on preparing sermons.  He calls to task the lazy religious leader:

Are you one of those people, after hearing a sermon, know that your pastor has not invested any deep thought and hard work into sermon preparation? . . . . As a layperson, I have experience this and asked myself: “Why do I want to come back to this church?” So I can relate to people who have been disappointed with church.

I am simply amazed when pastors brag about speaking extemporaneously, presumably regurgitating whatever they happened to read – perhaps on the Internet – in the last week.  It’s a bit hard for me to imagine how such a sermon could be a worthwhile experience – especially compared to the carefully given and practiced sermon.  (Which reminds me of the old joke about two people talking – one says:  “My rabbi is such a genius that he can give a full hour long sermon on just a single verse.”  The other says “Oh, that’s nothing.  My rabbi can talk for two hours about absolutely nothing.”)

Kevin asks about what sort of book makes sense for preparing sermons.  Here are some books that inspire me – they deal with giving sermons, but their utility for all sorts of presentations is clear.  Giving good sermons or other presentations is hard work, but it shows respect for one’s audience:

Aristotle’s Poetics

Of course, I need to begin by citing my hero:  Aristotle.  If one views a lecture or sermon as a performance, then questions of dramaturgy arise.  This is the classic exposition of the aesthetic quality of literature, and attentive readings can help a presenter raise his presentations from tedious recitations to works of art.

American Sermons:  The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr.

The best way to prepare material is to see masterful examples of it prepared.  This book is a useful anthology.  Some other useful collections are of John Henry Newman, Louis Jacobs, Martin Luther King Jr., and Saperstein’s collections of Jewish sermons (1, 2).

Fred Craddock’s Preaching

Craddock is a genius of preaching – and it is well worth tracking down CDs or online MP3s of his sermons.  In this book, he gives all of his tips.  In this book he gives all of his tips.  Perhaps an even better book is his Overhearing the Gospel in which he analyzes Kierkegaard's style of exposition as a model of clarity.


Kevin Sam said...

Theophrastus, thanks for the suggested books and the link. They all look like really good picks. I have Craddock's book but I'd really like to read Aristotle's Poetics and volumes in American Sermons.

R. Mansfield said...

I grew up listening to a "professional" orator as my pastor. He had a doctorate in preaching and was a wonderful man to boot. He worked weeks in advance planning his sermons. And by Wednesday of every week, he would already be putting Sunday's sermons to memory. They were well thought out and intelligent. Because that's all I knew, I never realized how lousy most sermons every Sunday are. I know to say "most sermons" sounds like I'm over generalizing, but really, I'm not. We need more Aristotles and Augustines who take public oration and rhetoric seriously.