As a semi-regular preacher at my Church, my pastor invited me to take part in this years Clergy Days, an annual event held in Toronto for our district of the Nazarene Church. I think he invited me because, though I’m not a “clergy,” I do preach often enough that he felt this year’s theme – “The Preaching Event–An Intersection Between Heaven and Earth” – would enhance my gifting and would benefit the church as I exercise what I’ve learned.
The speaker was Dr. Gary Bennett, a Nazarene pastor based out of Vancouver. Dr. Bennett trained under Haddon Robinson author of the book, Biblical Preaching, and he wrote his dissertation on (I believe) homiletics. I walked away from the event with some great nuggets to work into my approach. Here are a few things I jotted down.
Nuggets of Benefit:
- The “Communicative moment.”: Gary talked about that “moment” during a speech or sermon when everything changes, when you go off script and when passion mixed with experience and your study results in that moment when you connect with your audience in a powerful way. He used Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech as an example of when, near the end of the speech, it seemed Luther went off script and bursts forth the portion of his speech that would be remembered and repeated ever since.
- God’s Word and God’s actions are inseparable: Redemptive action, says Bennett, always follows God’s word by definition.
- Utilizing the Authority of God’s word: For example, when someone asks for forgiveness from God for something you can say to them with confidence, “on the authority of God’s word, you are forgiven.” To be clear, this isn’t word of faith jargon. Word of Faith teaches “If I say it, God will do it.” What Bennett is advocating is the exact opposite, “because God said it, I’m assuring your that He has done it.” There’s power in reassuring people of the promises of God.
- Do you follow the scripture’s thoughts, or do you make the scriptures follow yours?: In other words, when you come to the scriptures do you ask, how can this text teach what I want to say? or do you say, what does this scripture passage say that I need to teach?
- The ONE THING: This was an important principle for me that goes in line with the book, The Simple Church. When you come to your sermon, do you have ten things, seven things, three things you want to get across? Ideally you should ask yourself, what is the ONE THING, the BIG IDEA that this text is saying? Then you should spend your time in the pulpit delivering that ONE THING. People will remember it and it’ll have a bigger impact.
- Teach less material at greater depth: This follows the “SIMPLE” model I just mentioned. Less IS more. I need to remember this one.
- A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew: If the preacher is not clear about his or her thoughts, the people will be left in a fog of confusion. I’ve seen this happen so often, and experienced it myself.
- No sermon is ready to preach until you can express it’s theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as crystal: The clergy gathered in small groups and were assigned a text which revealed to all of us just how difficult this process can be. But this exercise is essential if you want to communicate ONE THING with less material to a GREATER DEPTH and with a CLEAR, non-foggy, mind.
- Preaching is truth expressed through personality: Some preachers will say, I pray that people don’t see me today, but rather that they just hear the Word. As sincere as that is, it amounts to misguided humility. God uses people, their unique personality, experience, and knowledge. Truth preaching is incarnational preaching.
Those where some really good thoughts shared by Dr. Bennett. But there were two ideas conveyed that I’d like to critique while making suggestions for improvement.
Two (Related) Critiques:
1. Verbal Monologue vs. Diverse Dialogue: Not surprisingly, I suppose, Gary stated at the beginning that he intended to argue for the superiority of the spoken word over the written and visual word. He’s not talking about God’s Word in this context, he’s talking about the method a preacher ought to use while conveying his or her sermon. This includes a rejection of the use of Social Media and PowerPoint presentations or even having a “fill in the blanks” in the bulletin. He says that anything that takes the audience’s eyes off of the preacher, or anything that might distract the audience from hearing the message, is a “devaluation of preaching.” But is that necessarily true?
- Social Media’s place?: I’m going to leave this for my second critique below. For now I’m just going to say Social Media is here to stay and the question we should be asking is not, how can we get people to shut off their devices? but, how can we utilize this tool to enhance the sermon?
- PowerPoint the right way: Dr. Bennett quotes Donald Sunukjian who talks about preachers who “put their sermon outlines” into PowerPoint presentations and goes on to say “the greatest danger with PowerPoint outlines is they turn passionate preaching into an academic exercise.” The problem the way I see it is that Sunukjian seems to think flatly in terms of academic Powerpoint sermon outlines. But that’s only one approach to Powerpoint and I’d agree, if that is how a preacher is using it, then they are devaluing their preaching. But if they use Powerpoint correctly, like say by having occasional slides at transition points in the sermon or when they read a long quote, they can add value to their sermon.
2. Social Media for the Pulpit: The only mention of Social Media during the seminar placed it in a negative light, under the category of things that “devalue preaching.” When I spoke to Dr. Bennett during an intermission and asked him how his church utilizes social media he said they didn’t because he isn’t tech-savvy. With a church of more than 300 I would expect someone there might be tech-savvy enough to fill that need (statistics suggest that 97% of his congregants have a Facebook account). But if social media is seen as a devaluation by the leadership team, its usefulness will not be seen by anyone in the church.
However, Pastor Hany from Toronto spoke up commenting that social media and technology isn’t going anywhere. He then said that he has found a way to incorporate “text messaging” into his sermons. While the idea seemed to be dismissed by Dr. Bennett it struck me as brilliant, not necessarily for texting (I’d probably find it distracting receiving texts from the congregation while I preach), but for social media. Afterwards I connected with Pastor Hany and shared with him my idea of using thematic hashtags to enhance his sermon and engage his audience, which he seemed highly interested in learning more (I’m going to write a forthcoming post on my idea). My point is that I think preachers need to find a way to use social media to enhance the “preaching event.” In fact I think that for the years to come, utilizing social media before, after and during church will become essential.
My Favourite Part
My favourite part of the whole event was connecting with so many people in the leadership of the Nazarene Church here in Ontario. I think some good relationship were started and had many great conversations. There was so many diverse ethnic groups represented there, it was really awesome. I had a great conversation with the former president of Ambrose Seminary about inerrancy (which is happily not strictly defined by the Nazarene Church!) and Open Theism. I also had another great conversation by one Pastor Mike and his wife, both are brilliant pastors, and both are avid readers of Walter Brueggemann, N.T. Wright, Greg Boyd and others. Readers of this blog will know why that matters to me. I found kinship in these ministers. It was nice and refreshing to engage with church leaders who are deep thinkers, open-minded and so passionate.
All in all I really enjoyed Clergy Days and appreciate my pastor’s invitation. I learned some great things thanks to Dr. Bennett, and met some great people.