Preacher to Preacher: An Interview with J. Alfred Smith

What is your process of preparation for a sermon?

I begin my sermon preparation process by entering into what I call the preparation of the preacher. This involves preparing my own heart through prayerful engagement with God. I need to pray for forgiveness and for cleansing in order to commune with God about speaking to God's people. The preacher who speaks for God must first be willing to listen to God.

Secondly, I do not preach a text just because the lectionary says that I should preach that text. I strive to preach to the heads and hearts of people; therefore, I try to understand what the needs of the specific audience are. Who is my audience? What is the social location of the audience? What are the ages of the people who will make up the audience? What would I like for them to do with the sermon?

Then I am ready to make a critical study of the preaching passage. After careful exegesis, I try to build a bridge from the text to the sermon. After building the bridge from the text to the sermon, I strive to use the method of Professor Buttrick of Vanderbilt University. Professor Buttrick suggests that the sermon should move from one movement to another much like a symphony. Then I strive to construct a proper conclusion. Many a sermon, like many an airplane, has crashed in an effort to land.

What is the future of preaching?

Last year the annual meeting of Reformed rabbis met in San Francisco and they invited me to speak to them on the future of preaching. Some of the persons present felt that preaching was going out of style, and there were others who were concerned about changing the form of preaching. They wanted preaching to be more informal; however, I told them that the people of my social location return week after week and Sunday after Sunday with the poetry of their sorrows, with their hopes, with their heartbreaks, and with their heartaches. They come wanting to know how long wrong would be on the throne and how long justice would sleep. They come wanting to know if there is a word from the Lord. So the preachers in the African American tradition preach not because they can, but because we must and we shall preach until justice runs down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

3/15/2011 4:00:00 AM