I have experienced a glorious week of hearing the Gospel, singing to God, and talking with other preachers at the Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta. (My husband endured a long week of schedule juggling, meal preparing, and dish washing at home with our three kids—which is why I will not have another glorious Festival experience for approximately five years. Poor guy didn’t know what he was getting into when he promised to love me for better or worse.)
In future posts, I might share some thoughts from specific speakers at the Festival. Tonight I want to share broadly some of the things I observed that make for great preaching. And just so you know where I’m coming from, my favorite preachers at the Festival were: Nadia Bolz-Weber, Walter Brueggemann, Anna Carter Florence, Grace Imathiu, and Raphael Warnock.
So, here are things I already knew but had confirmed about great preaching:
- You have to have something meaningful to say about the text.
- You have to have something meaningful to say about our life with God and each other in the world.
- You have to connect #1 and #2.
- You have to care about what you are saying.
- You have to care about the people you are saying it to.
- You have to tell stories.
And I was pleasantly surprised to observe that:
- Great preachers can use any kind of story to good effect: a personal story, a literary story, a fable, a story from the Bible, a story from the news . . .
- Great preaching does not require a particular style; my favorite preachers were: prophetic, dynamic, friendly, nurturing, theatrical. You can be yourself and preach well; you do not have to become someone or something you are not.
- Great preachers use notes and manuscripts! I can hear the Hallelujah Chorus now.
- Great preachers preach relatively short sermons. None of the best sermons went on too long. I didn’t time them, and I have a feeling they ranged in length, but they all ended at the end. I was quite encouraged in my current practice of 12-minute sermons. (Mark Twain said, “No sinner is ever saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.”)
So what insights about preaching have you gained from watching the masters at work?