Notes from a First Year Preacher
Preacher to Preacher: An Interview with Rev. Dr. Mark Labberton
Where are the sticking points? What's the main point? What are the qualifiers and tensions? Sift, sift, sift, sift. Discern. Pray. Discern. Pray. Until finally it begins to feel that this is what the sermon is about in one or two statements and what do I most want people to remember about this text in their lives, in the world? Am I calling them to action? I try to get out of the way of the text and let it drive what's happening. So, I am not driving for application but to bring the text home. Application often means something very tangible and specific, but that is seldom the way the Bible works. It seems reductionist. I am looking for character and life and transformation, but making clear that the evidence for that internal work will be external work. My bigger purpose is that people get a larger sense for the heart of God.
What is the future of preaching?
There is a lot of experimentation going on but a lot of it is a chasing technique. If people tweet on the screen behind me or my sermon is more conversational, then that is the latest thing. Any of that, all of that, none of that is fine. We live in a visually demanding and pragmatic age. We want things to happen and we want to respond immediately. The tangibility of new forms is good because people want to be in conversation.
But I think the crisis is not about form, but content. Do we actually believe God's Word is exceptional to our own? I think that is the bigger question that must be wrestled with. Do we believe God has a truer and more authoritative voice? And some of the new techniques are about legitimate genuine incarnationalism and some of it is about saying I don't want to hear someone else's voice as much as I want to hear my own. There is a scandal about preaching that is unfortunately wedded to the patriarchal idea of a person in a robe in a pulpit and talking down to "You people," but at its truest, that line of authority is about God's authority that is meant to redefine everything else. And our crisis in the church is not being able to acknowledge and submit to God's authority. That conversation supersedes the debates about techniques and questions about technology and tweeting.
Preaching has gone in and out of fashion over the centuries, but the things that keeps bringing it around is how do you make an assertion of a revelatory word over and against all other words, as Barth saw it. So preaching is an attempt to reflect a belief in a monotheistic God come in flesh in one person. How do you communicate that? A faint parallel is one person standing in front of community and declaring that word. There is something about acknowledging the incarnational reality of Christ that requires it. It's not just about the collective community, there is always more than that, there is another and different word to which our community bears witness.
Jenny Warner is the Pastor for Justice, Spirituality, and Community at First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. She graduated from Biola University with a B.A. in Intercultural Studies and Psychology in 1992, and in 2010, received a Masters of Divinity from San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is a trained spiritual director, certified by Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle.