There is a wealth of books on preaching out there these days that put the experts in the field right at our fingertips. Not only does a preacher need to be biblically informed. A preacher needs to be a decent to excellent communicator as well. We are not all gifted as expert communicators but I believe most people can at least become good enough to communicate clearly and concisely with some effort.
First, let’s sit at the feet of master communicators. These aren’t just scholars who teach on preaching. These are preachers who know a thing or two about communicating, about God/scripture and about combining those two things into something that is impacting and healthy for the well being of a congregation.
Fred Craddock is one of the first who comes to mind. Craddock is probably the most influential writers on preaching of the last generation or two. If you haven’t read Craddock you at least need to read “As One Without Authority” and if you have a few more hours to sharpen yourself up pick up his book simply titled “Preaching.” Craddock typically takes an inductive approach to preaching that helps the listener move toward the conclusion rather than be given a conclusion and then be given the supporting points. Craddock’s work is also foundational to how a preacher seem their role in ministry. As One Without Authority addresses cultural trends that have pushed the pulpit to the margins and how to reclaim the place where scriptures are communicated in a way that is central to the church and the lives of the those in the congregation. Preaching is 1/3 how to preach and 2/3 on what leads up to sermon preparation and delivery. These are both must read books.
The next person who comes to mind is Tom Long. Long wrote what was one of the most eye opening and creative books on preaching that I read when I first learned what preaching was all about in his book Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible. He has other probably better known books on preaching but this one is one of my favorites. His point in the book is that how words are packaged is part of the meaning they are intended to convey. So psalms are packaged in poetry unlike proverbs and narratives which all have their own format that compliments their message and so preaching all of these with the same approach can easily not fully communicate the message because the sermon is not adjusting to the genre. This gets the preacher in tune with various literary devices that various genres use and then finding creative ways to form sermons that integrate in the fuller message. So the sermon does more than speak. The sermon acts. It acts in a way that accomplishes what the text accomplishes. Long’s book “The Witness of Preaching” is another helpful book on preaching. It was this book and through studying with Dr. Bland at Harding School of Theology that I learned about the focus and function of a sermon. This isn’t something that I use every time I preach but it is something I fall back on when I realize in my sermon preparation that I have gone “off the rails” and am lacking direction. These are two books that every student of preaching should read.
Next come two people that I will combine into one blurb because they are two of the best communicators/preachers alive today. I am talking about Tim Keller and Andy Stanley. Keller recently wrote up his methodology of preaching in his book “Preaching” and Andy Stanley shares helpful insights on how to communicate in his handy book Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication. Both of these books are intensely practical. If you don’t have the money to pick these up or just want a preview of Keller on preaching check out these two PDF’s: Preaching in a secular culture, Applying Christ to the Heart in Preaching or this 189 page pdf tome called “Preaching the Gospel in a Post Modern World”. Keller preaches in Manhattan and is very adept and dealing with secular culture and post-modernism.
If you are interested in preaching specific books of the Bible check out the Bland/Fleer series where each year the pick a particular theme in scripture or book of the Bible and have various preachers teach on how they preach that particular book of the Bible and give example sermons. Here are the books and topics they have covered:
Preaching Mark’s Unsettling Messiah
Here are a few other books of notable mention. I would suggest you add these to your reading list if you want to sharpen up your preaching:
Chapell – Christ-Centered Preaching
This is one of the best all around books on preaching theory I have ever read.
Paul Scott Wilson – Four Pages of the Sermon
This is an approach to preaching that emphasizes building tension and releasing tension through the format of the sermon. This doesn’t work for everything but it does work in many instances.
Eugene Lowery – The Homiletical Plot
Like the four pages of a sermon, this i another method of structuring a sermon in a way that generates meaning and allows people to discover meaning as the sermon unfolds. This is the basic flow of a good narrative and how to allow people to experience those same ups and downs through preaching. If you have ever felt like a sermon “took you somewhere” it was probably because it did and a good sermon structure and flow can create that if done intentionally.
John W. Wright – Telling God’s Story: Narrative Preaching for Christian Formation
Wright’s book helps the preacher craft a sermon that helps the congregation find their way into God’s story, relate with it and connect with it and ultimately learn to live within it. This is a book on preaching biblical narratives.
I would also go back and look in the old literature by monks in the middle ages. Also, Hillel and Maimonides as well as Abraham Joshua Heschel. It is one thing to read the modern books but much was written long ago. Take a listen to sermons in other churches and by women as well. Listen to a Catholic or Anglican homily. This may give you an idea of other styles of preaching such as the homily.
I like what you have to say, Mark. It seems to me that the evangelical church, not just the Church of Christ, lacks a poetic spirit and voice. Many wonder why churches are shrinking in attendance; though there is more than one factor involved, I do believe one is the pulpit has been become dry watering hole, no longer a life giving stream. If all a preacher wishes to do is impart information he or she could simply hand out copies of their sermon; but if preachers desire their listeners to leave with mind and soul stirred and moved, they must be moved themselves to “sing” it. Of course, all this has been said to emphasize that preachers must read, with honesty, those things that shake them until their hearts become open to all.
Thanks. I am not sure who taught preaching 50-70 years ago but I could not follow most cofC sermons that seemed to just go on forever and harshly criticized people. Look, I caught flak for saying so and was told I wasn’t paying enough attention. This did not help as there was nothing in the sermon for someone young to relate to or apply to daily life. I do better listening to and can understand old-style homilies where one point is made and then it ends. The parables had and still have a lot of applicability to life but too many cofC members thought that was too simple. I have heard some of the “toughest” homilies preached on one simple parable. However, the priest did not criticize people but actions. There is a big difference in the two.
The works of A. Campbell are great. I am impressed every time I read some of the writings how far ahead of the curve he was and still is in many ways. One of the worst things I think were when we stopped writing on scriptures and started outlining them as a sermon. I think one of the worst habits is quoting from these writers when we can write and quote from scripture instead. We should use the insight of others to get a better understanding of the scriptures, then use our new understanding of the scriptures with scripture. This is how many bad things get spread about, because we recycle the interpretation of someone else on the scriptures and not the scriptures themselves.