Today I attended my first true preaching conference. Probably the most beneficial part of the conference was interacting with local (and by local I do mean in Texas terms, some came from 8 hours away…) pastors who need encouragement in their shepherding. Talking with them made me realize the joy of collaborative sermon preparation. By collaborative I mean working together to find the true meaning of the text for the purpose of delivering the ‘right’ meaning to the church. This is quite important.
Though listening to Dr Allen parse verbs, Dr Smith emphasize persuasion, and Dr Chapell explain the redemptive aspect of Scripture was fine and uplifting, the real joy came after the workshop through a panel discussion with these three professors plus John Meador and Dr McKellar. Preaching, the theory and practice, is becoming a greater joy for me. When given the opportunity to hear what is truly on the hearts of scholarly men, I jump for the opportunity to listen and soak it all up. An added benefit to this is knowing them personally, which they make available to students the opportunity to do so, and realize that scholarly and holy often go hand in hand. Enough of the fluff tho, I want to get down to the question that I so nervously asked this group of men.
A thought that has been on my heart of recent is whether a preacher has a right to preach an unprepared thought from the pulpit. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but as I consider the question in my own preaching experience a resounding no always seems to result from my thoughts. My reasoning is this: even if you do not take a manuscript or notes on the stage, all of the thoughts of the preacher should be well thought out and prepared, analyzed, and confirmed through commentaries/orthodoxy before a preacher ever can stand behind the pulpit. I don’t suppose a preacher is bound to certain thoughts while in the pulpit but should not try and add spur of the moment thoughts. Instead, if the new discovery is worthwhile then the preacher should quench it for the moment, consider it further, and develop it in another sermon.
It was neat watching the men consider the question, although I must say I could feel the trembling in my voice when Dr Smith asked me to further explain my thought… Seriously, I am scared to know how it sounded to those around me because I know it was awful. Three beneficial thoughts hit home from them. One was this, from John Meador: preach within boundaries. The boundaries would be doctrine, or to trace an analogy the guardrails along a highway. As long as you stay within the guardrails then there is freedom to move within the lanes. Doctrine, or orthodoxy, serves as the guardrails and allows a preacher to move within the text with freedom so long as what is taught does not contradict doctrine. Inherited in this response is the affirmation that we are not to isogete the text, adding to it what is not there. Dr Chappel added with these words: proper preparation lends to more freedom within the text. His point was to show that the more a preacher understands the text the more apt he is to pick up small nuances when he least expects it. Dr Allen responds with this phrase: experienced preachers are able to preach out of the overflow. He added to the conversation with this phrase to describe the function of past preparation. Everything a preacher does is found within a continuum. Doing a word study on a passage in John may help in understanding a word in 1 John. So, without realizing it, a preacher may be preaching and see a word, realize he studied it awhile back and know the meaning and use of it, and include it in the sermon on the spot.
I greatly benefited from all three responses because it affirms to me that preaching is not rigid. Preaching is not mechanical, it does not following an exact step-by-step process. Rather, preaching comes from the overflow of the working of the Spirit in a preacher’s life. Preparation is essential and knowing what you are going to say before you say it is the path to seek. But, one must always concede that the Holy Spirit knows what he is doing when he empowers a preacher to proclaim the Word of God. I learned a much needed lesson tonight and will benefit from it greatly in the very near future.