Preaching Resource: Every Moment Holy

every moment holyPreaching Resource: Every Moment Holy

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Preaching is just one sub-category of pastoral speech. What we say outside the pulpit–when comforting a family after the loss of a loved one, praying for a patient about to undergo surgery, or meeting with a small group leader about the people they disciple–requires just as much careful attention as our words on Sunday morning.

Many of these situations require “on the spot” prayer, forcing us to blaze our own trails with words that fit the longings and losses of the people God’s called us to be with in the moment. Other situations–including baptism, Communion, and corporately praying The Lord’s Prayer–allow us to tread well-worn trails of pastoral speech, lifting to God words that speak for our hearts even as they were written by someone else.

Every Moment Holy is a collection of guided prayers formed after The Lord’s Prayer, that encourages readers to approach everyday moments as invitations to prayer. The book is filled with patterns of worship for both milestones (e.g. “A Liturgy for a New Home,”) and everyday moments (e.g. “A Liturgy for Changing a Diaper”) that point to how each act of our day can point toward God’s work in the world.

Every Moment Holy 3The prayers themselves are formative; and (almost as importantly) this book helps readers cultivate a vocabulary of prayer that builds a rich well of dialogue with God and others. Anyone who reads this will take several insights away; the following are some of those we found most important for preachers:

  • Careful Words: Words are often used cheaply. And since most of our culture engages with words via sound-bytes thrown into the ether, preachers can sometimes fall into the temptation to choose words without considering the people to whom they will be delivered. The words we use on Sunday will shape the way people see the Good News (and even how good they perceive it to be). Both in preparation and in the moment of a sermon, corporate prayer, or meeting, wise preachers work to discern the right words for the right moment.
  • Pastoral Listening: Right words are important; but the right words are only as right as the preachers’ discernment of the context. Knowing the right words is dependent on attentive listening to both God and the people we serve. Every Moment Holy reminds us that listening to the voice of God–and the longings and losses of our congregation–are more than afterthoughts in our preaching process.
  • Improvisational Spirit: Structuring prayer and preaching with careful words and attentive listening are crucial; structure, however, is useful only insofar as it gives rise to freedom. Liturgy–and well-worn trails of prayer–are useful guides to a vibrant and ongoing relationship with God and congregation. The best preachers come with a plan, hold space for a response in-the-moment, and work to develop enough knowledge of the text and congregation to weave them together faithfully.every moment holy 2
  • Hidden Holiness: Every Moment Holy reminds us of the importance of attending to how small things like morning coffee, seasonal changes, and changing a diaper can be spiritual actions. One of the great tasks of preaching is to help the congregation find where holiness may be hiding–in the world, in themselves, and (most essentially) in Jesus Christ.

If you’ve used the resource, what has stood out as important to you? Whether or not you’ve used it, what resources (websites, books, Scripture, written prayers) have helped you approach God more faithfully in your life and preaching?

Ethan Linder © 2019


Ethan Linder is the Pastor of Hospitality, Collegians, and Young Adults at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and the Editor of The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development writing staff.

Quotations by and for Preachers

 

Quotes on PreachingBelow are a few prompts for your thoughts. Please do not strip mine them for your sermon in coming weeks. These are meant for pondering, for personal reflection, for prayer, and for transformation of the preacher. Then, if they have lived within the well of your heart for some time, feel free to preach them. Read each one. Read it again. Breath a prayer about it. Journal for a moment. Or go for a walk. But above all else, hear God through one of them…and let God speak to you, for you.

“When God gets ready to shake America, He may not take the Ph.D. and the D.D. God may choose a country boy … God may choose the man that no one knows, a little nobody, to shake America for Jesus Christ in this day, and I pray that He would!”

—Billy Graham

“To know the Word of God, to live the Word of God, to preach the Word, to teach the Word, is the sum of all wisdom, the heart of all Christian service.”

—Charles E. Fuller

“The great commandment is that we preach the gospel to every creature, but neither God nor the Bible says anything about forcing it down people’s throats.”

― Louis Zamperini, Devil at My Heels

All places where women are excluded tend downward to barbarism; but the moment she is introduced, there come in with her courtesy, cleanliness, sobriety, and order.

—Harriet Beecher Stowe

“There is no justification without sanctification, no forgiveness without renewal of life, no real faith from which the fruits of new obedience do not grow.”

—Martin Luther

“The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented …. in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

—C. S. Lewis

“If God has given graces to some good women, revealing to them something holy and good through His Holy Scriptures, should they, for the sake of the defamers of the truth, refrain from writing down, speaking, or declaring it to each other? Ah! It would be too impudent to hide the talent which God has given us, we who ought to have the grace to persevere to the end. Amen!”

—Marie Dentière, former abbess and wife of a Protestant minister (1495-1561)

“If your ministry can’t work without you, then it is no longer Christ-centered. Minister toward Jesus, not yourself.”

― Rev. Kellen Roggenbuck

“To believe one does not need counsel is great pride.”

—Basil the Great

“There’s no greater lifestyle and no greater happiness than that of having a continual conversation with God.”

—Brother Lawrence

“Evangelism without social work is deficient; social work without evangelism is impotent.”

—John R. Mott

“The fellow that has no money is poor. The fellow that has nothing but money is poorer still.”

—Billy Sunday

Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.

—Barbara Brown Taylor

“Give me … a compassionate heart, quickly moved to grieve for the woes of others and to active pity for them, even as our Lord Jesus Christ beheld our poverty and hasted to help us. Give me grace ever to alleviate the crosses and difficulties of those around me, and never to add to them; teach me to be a consoler in sorrow, to take thought for the stranger, the widow, and the orphan; let my charity show itself not in words only but in deed and truth.”

—Johann Arndt

“The secret of preaching is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions.”

—John Stott, The Challenge of Preaching

“Observe: It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in that holiness without which they cannot see the Lord.”

—John Wesley

Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service

John Wesley Covenant Renewal ServiceEach New Year methodist gatherings in Britain and eventually around the world celebrated a Covenant Renewal Service. It began in the 1750s with a desire by Charles and John Wesley to renew the commitment of the people under their care, and to give an alternative to the drunken parties of the New Year. It continued to be celebrated near the New Year mark in London, but Wesley established it in new societies whenever he went to visit them. This points to the central place the concepts of the service played in early wesleyan discipleship. Eventually it became common practice for this service to fall on the Sunday closest to January 1st. You may consider inaugurating this practice in the coming Christmas season.

John Wesley often spoke of this service as deeply meaningful and moving for the people when writing about it in his journal:

“Many mourned before God, and many were comforted” (April 1756)

“It was, as usual, a time of remarkable blessing” (October 1765)

“It was an occasion for a variety of spiritual experiences … I do not know that ever we had a greater blessing. Afterwards many desired to return thanks, either for a sense of pardon, for full salvation, or for a fresh manifestation of His graces, healing all their backslidings” (January 1, 1775).

The covenantal prayer forms the heart of the service and is its climactic experience for most. In it’s traditional form it is prayed from this model:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

(as used in the Book of Offices of the British Methodist Church, 1936).

It has been modernized in order to make the prayer closer to the heart language of today’s English speaker in this way:

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.’
Amen.

The Covenant Prayer, as it has come to be known, is typically in the latter third of the service and arrives after sung worship, read scriptures, liturgical participation, confession of sins, and a verbal invitation to join in with the prayer. In African American communities “Watch Night” Services have had particularly poignant traditions connected to them. Watch Night United Methodist GatheringNot only was a watch night a night of spiritual renewal and seeking, it was often the night masters reckoned their accounts and decided which slaves would be kept, which sold. In some years it was the last night families had together before they were separated. Watch Nights in churches concerned with racial reconciliation today can also watch for a day when the family of God can be more united, more whole, than it is now.

Jonathan Powers from Asbury Theological Seminary has written several possible worship orders for the service in today’s churches. Here is one of them to work from in adapting it for your own context:

Call to Worship
Song
Opening Prayer
Silent Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer
Scripture Lesson (Ecclesiastes 3:1-13)
Song
Scripture Lesson (Psalm 8)
Scripture Lesson (Revelation 21:1-6a)
Song
Scripture Lesson (Matthew 25:31-46)
Sermon
Song
Offering
The Proclamation
The Confession
Words of Assurance and Pardon
The Invitation
The Covenant Prayer
Song
Dismissal with Blessing

The scripture readings and the scripture to be proclaimed will change. The theme of covenant renewal, repentance, renewing of Christian vows, repentance from sin, and a forward looking surrender to God’s will are what holds all such services in common.

Here are a few ways you might start your preaching work on differing texts for this service.

1 Peter 1:13-25

Potential driving question: What have you set your hopes on this last year? What will you set your hopes on in the coming year?

Potential opening: You can tell what you hoped for most yesterday, by what you are most disappointed in today. Describe various disappointments and what prior hope they reveal. Describe the difference between what we say we hope for and what we actually hope for.

Themes in the passage worth exploring: the fleeting nature of life, the fulfilling nature of deeply felt love, our status as children who obey, a sense of “homelessness”, the temptations to pursue old sins to fill a desire, and so forth.

Potential closing concept: When grace is what we hope for, and giving love to others is what we enjoy, we are not disappointed. Set your hearts on these things not on the resolutions of this world. Not on the aims of this culture. Set your hearts on receiving grace, and giving love.

Psalm 50

Potential opening: Story of a gift whose enjoyment faded quickly. A remote control car driven into water and shorted. A flat screen TV broken on the ride home. A homemade item no one really wanted. A gift that was really for the giver, not the receiver. Sometimes gifts that deliver things in hand, leave both giver and receiver empty in the soul.

Themes in the passage worth exploring: the empty “gifts” God’s people are giving, the gifts God desires, the lack of need in God (doctrine of aseity), the need for the human to give something, the kind of giving that leaves both giver and receiver satisfied, the sins those who claim to have a covenant commit (theft of many kinds, deceit of many kinds, lust and adultery both physical and emotional, gossip and slander), those who are hungry though God is not.

Potential closing concept: The pop up store in London and New York (Choose Love) where you spend money but leave empty handed. Sometimes gifts that leave us empty handed are precisely what fills ours souls and pleases the heart of God.

Clearly both of these sermons are merely starting points. You will have to do your own exegetical work, wrestle with God spiritually, discern your own illustrative material, and make it fully your own. Consider some kind of spiritually focused renewal this new year. New Year resolutions are only as powerful as the will behind them. Renewed covenants reconnect us to the covenantal mercies and faithfulness of God.


David Ward, © 2018

 

So Many Good Preaching Sources, Where to Start?

Homiletical Resources

Exegetical vs Homiletical Resources

I once heard a craftsman who was working on a house job with only a tool or two in hand say, “I don’t use every tool every time. That’s why I have the big truck. It holds the ones I might use.” Preaching tools are just that, tools. Some you use every time, some you do not.

Every pastor builds a tool kit of resources to turn to again and again in developing sermons. There is widespread disagreement about which of those sources are best, most faithful, or even ethical. The universal experience for preachers is to find some highly recommended resources unhelpful, and unmentioned resources critical. If many preachers are honest, they have used sources they wish they had not.

Beginning preachers have a lot of questions about sources. Maybe this is because they feel the confused conflict between the advice of the experienced preachers who mentor them. Or maybe they just are not sure about all the big name books their bible professors seem to love. The questions preachers have surrounding resources often include some of these:

  • Is it okay to get illustrations from stock sources or internet pools for preaching ideas?
  • Is it faithful to use others’ outlines and sermons resources?
  • Is it ethical to use someone else’s story? How much credit must be given?
  • What if I don’t know any greek or hebrew?
  • Which books are the most important to buy if I am going to buy some?
  • What about commentaries? Which ones should I use? Which can I trust?

Those questions are important and we will cover most of them in coming articles. Hopefully it will help experienced preachers reflect more clearly on the resources we have become accustomed to using as well as clear some things up for beginning preachers at the same time.

Today we want to outline a critical difference between preaching resources in general, and exegetical resources for preaching in specific. There are thousands of endless millions of resources for preaching. That is not an exaggeration when you consider that all of life is a sermon when you have a well worn passage tucked away in your mental pocket. Exegetical resources are more countable, more easily categorized. Exegetical sources are more tailor made for the task of interpreting the Bible.

Here is the difference in a nutshell. Exegetical resources are those tools and sources used to understand and interpret the biblical passage in its own voice and time.

Preaching sources are the wide array of content inputs preachers use to add meaning and creative vantage points to their interpretation of the text. A book on friendship during the single years can be a preaching resource, whether it is particularly Christian or not. A lexicon defining the meaning of the Greek word friend, or the word for sibling-like love phileo, is obviously an exegetical resource.  

Why is this distinction so important?

It is tempting to prepare an entire sermon quilted together from patches of other people’s insights and interpretations.

A quote here, a borrowed illustration there, a set of teaching points and voila a sermon is born. When life is busy and pastoral duties squeeze out the luxury of reflective time with scriptures this can happen. Few pastors of very may years can judge another minister for the occasional sermon in this category, at least not without hypocrisy. If it happens consistently however, preaching becomes stale. Sermons seem canned. The energy and verve is drained from the preaching moment when the sermon is not born of the preachers’ flesh, blood, and soul. More importantly, the ongoing spiritual formation and spiritual vitality of the preacher is undercut. Preaching forms us, strengthens us, deepens us, if we take the time to use the right resources, tools, and give them good reflection.

The following are good exegetical resources most sermons should engage before deciding on the “main point” or “big idea” or “central claim” of the sermon:

  1. Multiple English versions (NIV, NRSV, NKJV, NASB, CEB, etc.)
  1. Interlinear version (freely available online of course, if you have not yet noticed biblehub.com or blueletterbible.org). Of course if you can translate, by all means do. But 99% of pastors are no longer able to translate even if they once could.
  1. Concordances. Strong’s and Englishman’s are the traditional combo. Again, though, the same material is now available freely online. Most Bible study websites hyperlink English words to the original language.
  1. Original language dictionary/lexicon (Brown/Driver/Biggs, Holiday’s Concise, etc.)
  1. Exegetical, critical commentaries (Word Biblical, Anchor Bible)
  1. Historical, geographical, and theological reference tools as needed (maps of the time period’s geopolitical spaces, theological dictionary references on key concepts or terms, etc.)
  1. Optional: homiletical commentaries (Wesleyan Biblical, Interpreter’s Bible, anything with “Preacher’s” or “Pastor’s” or “Homiletical” in the title). These are sort of boundary dwellers. They have some exegetical material, and others’ homiletical thoughts all mixed into one. I rarely find them terribly helpful for a particular sermon. I read them from time to time to “soak up” preaching in general. Many pastors find them helpful on specific sermons. Pastors seem to use them most often in one of two ways: plagiarizing or quoting. Phrases and sermonic moves are outright lifted from the commentary which is of course not the ideal. Or the pastor simply quotes them, “as one great preacher put it…” Rarely do these sorts of resources seem to spawn fresh interpretations of scripture in the new wine skin of the preacher’s personality.

Every preacher has to find her own way. There is no plug and play formula for a step-by-step guaranteed solid sermon. Just like any craft, each craftsperson finds a personalized way to achieve excellent results. However, preachers will not find consistently solid and gospel-centered sermons without holding themselves accountable to the right tools used the right ways.

The Ordained Preacher is a Craftsperson

stock vs custom cabinetsImagine going to a friend’s house who had custom cabinets installed at a custom cabinet price. Now there is a wide variety of difference in materials and workmanship on custom cabinets. Still, you look inside his cabinets and realize as happy as he is about them, they were purchased pre-fab and pre-assembled. The so called cabinet craftsman had sniffed naiveté. The craftsman could have used hardwood, or softwood, or hardwood veneer plywood. The craftsman could have even used medium density fiberboard and not been out of professional standards of honesty as long as it was communicated. Instead, the craftsman took pre-assembled cheap materials (pressboard and manufactured veneer) and passed it off as custom cabinetry. He picked them up at Home Depot or Lowe’s, added some filler pieces, painted over it all, and called it “custom.”

The cabinets will work. They will hold things, conceal unsightly things, and house possessions. They will cover the wall and the doors will open. It will “work.” But over time it will not satisfy. The veneer will warp and peel. The press board will eventually crumble and disintegrate. More importantly, perhaps, anyone who hears the name of the craftsman and knows cabinetry at all, will lose respect for that craftsman.

Cheap Cabinets PeelingThat friend would rightfully be outraged at the loss of trust. It is not that pre-assembled cabinets are wrong or worthless. Far from it. If you or I (hobbyists) were to install some we might very well use them happily. But for a craftsman to use them? Someone whose job is supposedly to offer custom fit cabinets? That is a disappointment.

Preachers are custom craftspersons. We write our messages for particular people and times. We round out the corners of the sermon to fit the geography and culture of the people. And we intend to give them sermons that will be satisfying for quite some time to come. The depth of the sermonic work provides strength for the content well beneath the veneer of a first hearing. When a layperson fills the pulpit, no one faults them for piecing together bits and pieces of material they have picked up along the way or discovered in preparation for the sermon. They are hobbyists so to speak. A full time preacher, particularly an educated and ordained one, is a different matter.

Preachers have a wide variety of materials and craftsmanship expectations. No one will fault a busy preacher for an MDF board sermon on a rough week. No one will fault the preacher for purchasing a few trim pieces already shaped and pre-primed. However, very few will be satisfied with preachers who purchase or re-use pre-assembled cheap sermons in order to fill the space, hold the attention, and cover the opening.

We want to know the preachers whose job it is to shepherd the flock with personalized care are doing so in sermon preparation. They might use any number of different tools for the job of the week. They might make a wide array of choices for materials. They might use more materials and greater personal cost to themselves. They might use less or thinner materials. Still, we expect a custom job.

Here are some things I have found helpful for me, for my students, and for preachers I occasionally help strengthen their preaching:

  1. Keep a standard list of your most helpful resources. The ones you use. The ones you like. The ones that help you build your own sermons with substance and care.
  1. Put that list in a step-by-step order of what resources to use first. Exegetical resources should always come before homiletical resources. You choose the number and the kind, but put them first.
  1. Put the most crucial resources for crafting custom sermons on a checklist. Make this a list you check before you read any other type of preaching resource.
  1. Use those sources with enough lead time. You need time for your spiritual engagement and preaching creativity to take hold. A rush job, up against a deadline, almost always causes us to use lesser materials without the right tools because we simply do not have time or energy left to do otherwise.

Book Review: Ways of the World

From time to time we include book reviews of new preaching resources on Wesleyan Sermons. Scott Donahue, a Wesleyan Master of Divinity student at Princeton Theological Seminary, has offered the below review on a new work by Dr. Sally Brown and Dr. Luke Powery. I recently led a panel reviewing their work at the Academy of Homiletics and was thrilled at the spiritually formative nature of the book. Scott is right, far too many preaching texts assume such central practices as prayer when considering the task of preaching. This work speaks a needed prophetic word in that direction and others. I not only join Scott in recommending the work, I have put it on my required reading list for masters students in the School of Theology and Ministry. I hope you will pick up a copy.  ~ Dave Ward


 

Book Review of:

Ways of the Word CoverWays of the Word: Learning to Preach for Your Time and Place by Sally A. Brown and Luke A. Powery

Sally A. Brown

Sally A. Brown

Luke Powery

Luke Powery

Sally Brown and Luke Powery combine their diverse and immense homiletical expertise in Ways of the Word: Learning to Preach for Your Time and Place. Both authors are professors at well-respected institutions (Duke University and Princeton Theological Seminary) and have years of practical preaching experience.  Powery grew up in a Pilgrim Holiness congregation and then worked in multiple theological traditions. Brown was formed in and teaches in primarily Reformed contexts. By writing from their shared and distinct perspectives, the book is intentionally ecumenical and offers diverse perspectives. Their goal in writing together was to be informed from multiple vantage points across ages, genders, ethnicities, and denominations. Each writer contributed individual chapters, while offering comments within the chapters that they did not write. Rather than argue for one particular method, form, and theory, the authors describe the best practices in each area and contend that preachers need to be well versed to be effective over time.

The first two chapters are devoted to understanding the Holy Spirit’s role in preaching. The authors contend that preaching is primarily driven by the Holy Spirit. Wesleyans should find the Spirit centered approach refreshing and congruent with our theological world view, in addition to appreciating the Christocentric method. The dynamic approach to preaching is summed up by their assertion that preaching “is more verb than noun.” That is, the sermon and the response to it are fundamentally dynamic. The authors balance the spiritual aspects of preaching by discussing the human elements of preaching, such as rhetoric. Effective preaching is a combination of the Spirit’s presence, faithfulness to the Word, and effective communication.

Chapter three reveals the importance of prayer in every part of the sermon practice. The internal work of prayer, study, and preparation are crucial to effective preaching. Along with these weekly practices, specifically set aside for preaching, is the preacher’s character. The congregation must trust the preacher and in order for there to be trust, they should witness the preacher’s character outside of the pulpit. Just as parishioners listen and respond to the words of a sermon, the preacher must listen and respond to the Word through prayer. The focus on prayer is an excellent addition to a preaching text, because despite prayer’s integral role in the sermon process, it is often neglected or underrepresented.

The fourth chapter highlights preaching as a form of worship and a spiritual practice. A goal of worship is to uncover God’s redemptive work in our world and give thanks. To that end, preaching must touch the mind and hearts of believers. Preaching cannot be purely cognitive (of the mind) because effective preaching not only educates but calls for a response. Holistic preaching reaches body, soul, and mind. The chapter contains a brief sketch of worship in the Bible and in Christian history in order to understand the modern centrality of preaching as worship. Brown challenges the reader to reflect on the purpose of worship and how sermons can contribute to worship. The notion is challenging because the reverse is often practiced. Preachers tend to think that worship enhances the sermon, as opposed to the sermon enhancing worship. Her corrective is welcome and necessary.

In chapters five and six the authors write about the preacher as interpreter of life and of scripture. The task of preaching calls for engagement with Holy Scripture and our 21st century lives. Brown’s emphasis on being specific to the needs of the individual congregation is well received, even though it means more work and intentionality for the preacher. The chapters on hermeneutics, how humans interpret, are the most technical and complex in the book. Yet, the chapters offer great insight and balance the rigor with illustrative material. For some, the specific discussion and implications may seem too academic, but those looking for homiletical theory to better understand the practice of preaching will not be disappointed.

The book touches on familiar ground with Powery’s utilization of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as an approach to good hermeneutics. Beyond using scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as lenses through which the preacher sees the world, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral informs and gives depth to sermons. It also asks the preacher to consider the experiences and traditions of the local community they are preaching, in addition to reflecting on the preacher’s own experiences and contexts that are brought public because of the privilege of the pulpit. In other words, how do our race, ethnicity, gender, class, and age influence the message we preach? Ways of the Word assists the reader in becoming more self-aware so that the Holy Spirit can intentionally utilize our experience for the betterment of the congregation.

Chapter seven describes deductive and inductive sermon forms, which is technical and advanced. The chapter provides an excellent framework for the novice or experienced reader. Along with other chapters, chapter seven is best grasped by the preacher willing to reflect on his or her own style. In order to grow, preachers should keep Ways of the Word in one hand, copies of their sermons in the other, and their congregation in mind. The book provides the necessary tools and frameworks for comprehensive growth but such growth takes intentionality and time.

The eighth chapter provides practical advice and reflection on the preacher’s body in the pulpit including voice, tone, gestures, and stance. Chapter nine offers a reflection on the use of technology in preaching. Both of these practical chapters contain theological rationale and insights into their topics. The final chapter pushes preachers to think about the stages of faith within their congregation. The needs of a new Christian are different from the needs of an unbeliever or a lifelong believer. The chapter contains ten useful strategies to preaching that enable Christian formation. Each has merit and when used appropriately enhances the preacher and sermons.

The book explores preaching in the context of the 21st century, both secular and ecclesial. One of the strengths of Ways of the Word is its synthesis and readability of modern homiletical theory. The authors utilize a variety of sources and often give comprehensive lists that help readers better understand their own views, while introducing them to the greater homiletical milieu. Each chapter ends with questions for reflection, methods of growth, and a list of sources for further reading. The book contains elements of Reformed theology and non-Wesleyan views, yet the purpose is not to indoctrinate but to expand. In fact, I find some of the Reformed comments and approaches to be an effective challenge to preaching that reduces faith to moral pietism and the “do more” mentality. One of the main benefits a Wesleyan pastor would receive from this book is its diverse perspective that invites the reader to think cross-denominationally about the most effective preaching practices and methods.

I would recommend this text to those who want to increase their existing knowledge of preaching. Brown and Powery offer an advanced preaching text that balances homiletical theory with preaching practice. The frameworks given are coupled with practical implications such that the reader will discover himself or herself within the text and uncover tools to enhance his or her preaching. The book does not offer simple steps to better preaching or easy correctives to poor preaching. Ways of the Word is driven by its strong content and desire to expand its reader’s knowledge. Wesleyan preachers would likely find themselves in the pages of the book and leave with a greater sense of self-awareness, a better understanding of why they preach a certain way, and methodologies to improve systematically.

Accompany Them with Singing – The Christian Funeral | Book Review

awsIf you go looking for a good book on funeral services, you will look for a while. Eventually, you will end up with one good book in hand: Accompany Them with Singing.

Most pastors I know would rather perform three funerals for well loved saints than one wedding full of family conflict and superficial pageantry. Ask yourself which wedding you performed lately that was really truly “meaningful” and you will probably find suffering or a funeral somehow connected to the story. Funerals are one of pastors’ most significant acts of ministry. So why are there so few books on how to engage them well?

The answer, apparently, is that funerals and worship at the time of death have been absorbed into the counseling sphere. In an interview on his book Tom Long states that “the disappearance of [writing] about the funeral was a major clue. That it had been absorbed into grief and psychotherapeutic literature was a good clue that there had been a shift, but I did not pick up on it.” Though he tries to help pastors realize there is more to funerals than grief care, more to the story of the people of God than a dead body, Long finds it difficult to convince people like you and me. “I can talk for six hours to a group of clergy, and they will still ask “but isn’t it really about grieving?” That’s how powerfully we have been trained in the psycho-therapy model to see death and dying only through that set of glasses. If you believe that even lament needs to be as much or more about God than about us, this book might help you find your way.

How do we know if our funerals have lost their way? Long highlights three elements that are required : necessity, custom, and conviction.

  1. Necessity reminds us there is a dead body and someone needs to do something about it. It cannot stay the way it is where it is. How are we dealing with that necessity? Are our dealings with it truly Christian?
  2. Custom is the simple realization that every society from the beginning of human history has found ways to ritually deal with death and the honor the body of the deceased. Christian pastors must deal with the necessity of the body and the customs of the community but what guides their choices Christianly?
  3. Conviction moves beyond “is” to “ought” and is rooted in the theological concerns of the Christian community.

For the process that includes a funeral to be done “well”, Long suggests it must attend to necessity, custom, and conviction. We cannot hand the entire enterprise over to business professionals, even Christian ones, and expect theological convictions to carry a significant force. We also cannot assume that every custom a community has is necessarily compatible with the convictions of the Christian faith. Long suggests we use this simple phrase when our convictions suggest our way of handling necessity could be more Christian: “consider this alternative…”

Where do we find alternatives to offer? One of the best contributions of Long’s book, perhaps even more significant than his very practical help in officiating funerals well, is a major shift in perspective about what funerals have traditionally been for Christians. Notice Tom Long’s journey toward realizing the difference between today and the past:

“The thing that finally was the figure/ground shift for me was doing the research on the history of the first five centuries of the Christian practice about funeral. I realized that I kept looking for what they did at the funeral. What did they do at the funeral? There was all this about how they would wash and anoint the body and sing and dress it in baptismal garments. They would carry it in broad daylight singing psalms to the cemetery and have Eucharist at the cemetery. Yeah that’s interesting, but what did they do at the funeral? And it suddenly dawned on me that that was the funeral. The drama of carrying the body to the place of farewell, with tear-soaked psalms of gratitude and thanksgiving, to give it back to God and to gather at the table with the saints—that was the funeral.”

Rather than a communal act of moving the body from the place where it died through theologically rich lament and worship to the place of its rest has been replaced, the funeral is now broken up into parts with very few people (even the family) knowing what happens in each of the parts. A sort of assembly line of death has been created, with a personal memorial at the end. God gets a brief cameo somewhere in the funeral sermon, primarily as cosmic counselor. Tom Long again, “everywhere I go the assumption is that grief management is what the funeral is about. That is a very powerful thing. I think that grief is accounted for and is part of the story: the great lament happens, but it is part of the larger script.” The plot for funerals according to Long, is the plot of the gospel not the descent into the soil.

The book is full of practical help for pastors who want to think through the theological, societal, and pragmatic issues related to pastoring at the time of death. The characteristics of a good funeral sermon are there. The elements of a well planned funeral are there. The best part of the book is this realization: the best way to grieve is to gospel. The lament is embedded in the gospel, but the gospel brings meaning to lament. I think Long is right in saying “the most basic need is not to be just comforted but to find meaning.” We need more than grief care at the time of death. To be sure we need that, and pastors for centuries failed to give it. Yet more than grief management, we need meaning for the soul. Otherwise with each death, a little more of our light leaks out.

~ Review by David B Ward, © 2015

Long, Thomas G. Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral
Louisville, KY, Westminster John Knox, 2009

Interview quotations taken from: http://www.practicingourfaith.org/pdf/Transcription%20of%20ATWS%20remarks.pdf Accessed, March 2015