Enhancing Memory for Public Speaking

Have you had that awkward moment where you lost your place on the manuscript and had to make a decision to look it up, tell a joke or a combination of both? I suppose the very worst thing you can say is, “I found it. There you are!” Handling a lengthy manuscript is no joke. It can cause unexpected and unnecessary elements of surprise. This goes for any carefully crafted public speech. We spend hours crafting words and coming up with clever phrases only to mess it all up in a moment of madness. How do we solve the problem?

  • Use different size fonts. Often speakers make the mistake of using the same size and style of fonts. The eyes then are attracted to all the words without understanding which ones are most important.
  • Using at least double space between lines. Speakers should use at least double space in between lines. This is important because when all the words are jumbled together into one big mess, it is impossible to read them, let alone deliver them in an effective manner.
  • Use color-coding. Many sermons can use color codes. This takes getting used to. For example, you can use yellow as transition points to highlight transitional sentences. You can use red for emphasis and so on. You however have to figure out in your mind what each color is supposed to represent first before you color code, but that should go without saying.
  • Use outline form and key words. A more personal style of delivery has to happen when we memorize the outline of our sermons. If we stick with the outline form, we can very much make eye contact with the audience and talk to them instead of reading AT them.
  • Use a plot line. Every illustration should have a plot. In order to tell a story well, you do not have to deliver it word for word, but you do have to place various elements in their places: beginning of the story, character development, climax. Some switch the elements around by having climax first and then retelling the story to get to its origin.

So, these are my tips this week for enhancing your preaching memory. I hope this works out well. If you have other questions regarding this topic, feel free to follow my Facebook page by hitting “like” and you can contact me there with your questions or suggestions.

Being Mindful of Your Audience

Any reasonable pastor should have some kind of idea about the kind of audience he’s preaching to. This is not some mystery. Yet, I think I need to write this blog post to remind my fellow preachers of the importance of this task.

Someone once remarked that the pulpit was built for the listener and not the listener for the pulpit. Whether we agree or not, that’s reality. I heard recently from a young person that complains about the preaching of his pastor. The problem was not the content; the problem was delivery. The generational gap is too large.

Some of the factors we need to consider are as follows.

We should consider the age of the audience. Older audiences come from a different era. Some of them can relate to stories about the Korean War or even World War II, but the younger audience might expect other things. Age is important. While the older audience is used to a modernistic (aka linear) way of seeing reality, many younger people look at things differently. They may see truths as having many different aspects rather than something overly black and white. We need to keep in mind of both kinds of audiences.

We should also consider the gender. Women do not necessarily find men’s interest relevant. This is a tough nut to crack. For many men, sport stories are very interesting but it may not be for many women. These days, we have to be very sensitive about using gender-neutral language on the pulpit. Many women might feel offended if we use overly masculine pronouns. For many, this may not be an issue, but for some, it is. Since the gospel is for all people, we have to careful to use inclusive language and illustrations to enhance instead of hinder our message.

These are some of the ideas we must consider when surveying our preaching. Of course, if you’re a visiting speaker, you can never tell what the expectations are.  Quite often, the delivery does not fit expectation and causes people to get upset, but that’s a blog post for another day. 

 

The Nature of Preaching: a reflection on the three-day lectures by Professor Thomas Long

The original Chinese article here.

 

A while back, I was talking about the character of the preacher. This installment, I’ll talk about the nature of preaching. Prof. Thomas Long, in his book, considers preaching as “witness.” Furthermore, besides witnessing, he also states in his seminar that preaching is confession. These are good starting points in looking at the nature of preaching.

What would cause us to think about preaching as confession and witness? Certainly, both ideas are not as prominent as others in biblical descriptions of preaching. There’s better vocabulary from the NT to describe the nature of preaching than those two words. I think our point of departure should surely come out of a church history and spirituality grid. What exactly does that mean?

Confession answers the question “What is my belief?” Witnessing answers the question “What experience do you have?” The former is an important recognition because my belief is quite different than what God actually revealed in the text. In saying “this is my belief,” we recognize the gap between the human interpretation and the actually divine revelation. The sermon is not divine revelation. Rather, it is an interpretation of the divine revelation. So, what are the measuring sticks when we look at the concept of “confession”?

I think one place to check my confession of belief is the broadest historical confessions of the church. The more we study the church fathers, the less we’re likely to think that we have the corner on truth. When we confess our belief, I think it is important to make sure our range of truth is wide enough to see the many possible facets of truths that had already existed in church history. Our individual confession is part of the greater confession of the church. This fact ought to keep the preacher humble to know that he has not possessed the corner on truth within the greater history of the church.

Another nature of preaching is witnessing. As I said before witnessing is about experience. In order to understand witnessing, we should contrast it against confession. Confession is about what I know and witnessing is about what I do with what I know. Witnessing links belief to praxis. Confession shouts, “I believe this is truth.” Witnessing shouts, “I’ve tried out my belief, and it works.” Witnessing is about practicing what one preaches. The practice of one’s belief does not merely touch on church tradition, but also touches on spirituality of the practitioner. Faith is translated into practicable form when the preacher sees preaching as witness. A witnessing preacher proclaims that a certain truth is indeed true and that this truth is practicable as well as relevant.

Confession and witnessing then become the expression of the church’s belief through the pulpit and through the words of the preacher. After doing all righteousness, confession and witnessing give the gift of the sermon to the church. The preacher himself does not own the sermon. He then builds it as part of the greater tradition through the ages in order to remind the church of what she ought to believe and do. In other words, preaching has a unifying effect on the congregation with the larger universal church.

What are some of the tools that will bring the confession and witnessing nature of the sermon back into the church? Long suggests usage of lectionary and series. The modern church mostly enjoys series because they are flexible and practical. The trouble is that the practicality of the series can take the church away from difficult passages. Lectionary has its lessons along with many resources to refer to. While the wider church can also refer to the lectionary, the preacher can feel insecure if he uses the resources, but he is missing the point of the lectionary because the resources are not exclusively his. Besides, reading the resources is one thing; using them wisely in the sermon is quite another thing. Lectionary can also unify the entire church to study something similar that is according to the church tradition without individualizing the sermon to the preacher’s own theological tastes. Certainly, it is better than making all the church pastors preach from the Purpose Driven Life and making the congregation do Sunday school on it. The lectionary is much safer and will enable the preacher to confess and witness for the faith of the church as well as his own faith.

Lessons about Church Growth from Other Cultures

Tags

My recent visit to New Zealand and Singapore has been tiring but fruitful.  I’ve finally gotten over my jet lag.  I want to share one lesson I’ve learned from this visit.  This lesson is about church growth.

In the popular imagination (even among many pastors) here, a growing church seems to exhibit certain traits such as a younger demographic, cool lighting, strong sound system, loud and hip rock band, a pastor who doesn’t wear a tie when he preaches and so on.  If we look at all the mega churches in the US, almost all of them fit this profile. In fact this uniformity is yet another kind of culture, and it works marvelously so much so that it has turned into a formula.  Gone are the days when we go to church in our Sunday best, sitting attentively in our pews and listening to a well-dressed preacher talk about the Bible.  These days, we have some who act like pseudo comedians, whose jokes aren’t as funny as the comedy club but are funny enough to hold our forever shortening attention span.  Relevant issues range from how to raise children, how to live a fulfilling life, how to get the maximum return to your investment (no, I’m not joking) and how to have a white-hot sex life.

To be sure, like all American products, such a formula also has its exported versions.   In Singapore, we have City Harvest, Faith Community Baptist, and New Creation, just to name a few.  Having followed the news on these churches, they’ve landed on tough times.  Although on the outside they look fantastic as usual, whispers and charges of corruption are ever present.

One pleasant surprise in visiting Singapore was my meeting with the faculty of Trinity Theological College of Singapore, the oldest seminary created by the mainline denominations there.  One thing I’ve learned from our conversation, besides the problem of Singapore mega churches, is the growth that is happening in Asia.  In case we think that growth came out of the American formula, we would be far off base.  In our sharing, many colleagues laid out the form of church growth in some of the Asian countries.  I was surprised to find that there’s a resurgence of high church worship.  In fact, some areas experience extraordinary growth in high church worship (i.e. worship filled smells and bells).  This is contrary to our image of a relevant church growth in the West.

Although many attribute church growth to God’s Spirit working, the uniformity of our mega churches only shows that perhaps it’s  more of a social phenomenon than something uniquely supernatural. Although many attribute our church growth to our western formula, the same formula has created nothing but problems in Asia.  Church growth has many factors then.  A simplistic attribution to either supernatural forces or to a formula should have no place in any open mind.  What have I learned from our conversation?

I’ve learned that observation of growth only yields more questions than answers.  I’ve learned that equating the work of the Spirit with a formula based on a social phenomenon is dubious.  I’ve learned that statistics do not tell the whole story.  Church growth depends on too many factors to have any black and white answer.

 

A Short Preaching Lesson from the Rt. Reverend Paul Kwong

Tags

The recent comments of the Rt. Reverend Paul Kwong, archbishop of the Hong Kong Anglican Church have inflamed the news media.  The comments came from one sermon he preached on the Occupy movement in Hong Kong.  The movement seeks to bring more freedom of speech, democracy and equality to the Hong Kong society.  This and other forms of civil disobedience have been at the center of the last few months.  The summer, after all, is the marching season in Hong Kong where people publicly demonstrate their frustration over the intrusion and hegemony of the mainland Chinese government.

Some of the comments that had incensed the local people include a call to not voice out an opinion about democracy.  Kwong is clearly frustrated with the question, “What does the church have to say about …?”  His remarks were extensive about not participating in “illegal” activities especially of the civil disobedience nature. He further remarks that the silence of Jesus should become the example to all.  I’m not going to address his exegetical fallacy or his theological errors or even his own integrity as bishop because many have already.  What I want to discuss is our tactic in speaking about social issues on the pulpit.  My simple advice is this. Put your exegesis first and social issues second.

Although in the Chinese circle I’m considered a fairly progressive homiletician, I’ll be the first to say that I’m still fundamentally quite traditional in my approach.  My sermon presentation or exegetical method may be progressive, but my basis is quite traditional.  No matter how we present the material, I advocate a strong expository element in the overall shape of the sermon.

My ultimate aim in this blog is not to disparage Kwong.  He’s accountable for his own words and has been raked over the coals by the media already.  I propose that we need to make sure that our aim of preaching a text should be governed by the text.  We should not make the text fit our agenda, no matter how admirable or updated our agenda is.  As preachers, we’re tempted to be relevant.  When we give into the temptation of ONLY preaching relevance, our pulpit presentation becomes a spiritualized report of current event.  This is why I advocate that we should only comment on current issues if our text clearly addresses them and our comment would be the best illustration of the issues from the text. I believe there’re many places in the Bible that can address such issues, but we must be so careful or our sermon time would be filled with such commentaries.

These days, many preachers are under the pressure to “say something … anything” about the current world situation.  I think it is important to have something from the gospel that connects to the world. At the same time, we’re in grave danger of hijacking the gospel for our causes.  I say this not only for Kwong but for both sides of the debate (between the Left and the Right).  Our biblical basis should be quite strong when we preach out of the text, but our logic should also be quite connected to the text.  When it comes to choosing between our admirable agenda or the text, we should always choose the text.  Do we really know what the text is saying? Are we doing what the text is doing?  These are the better questions to ask when we write up our sermons instead of “What does the church have to say about this or that?”  At the end, it is not our intention that counts.  It is our impact that gets us into hot water.

The Rhetorical Question in Preaching

Tags

This is a short blog on the rhetorical question. In my observation of many sermons, preachers like to use rhetorical questions. A rhetorical question is a question that does not really want answer. Sometimes, its purpose is to cause the listeners to think. Other times, its purpose is to exhort the listeners to action. Whatever the purpose behind such a question (I’m sure my readers can name quite a few more), here are the observations on its usage.

The rhetorical question is like dessert. Eating too much of it will overwhelm your system. Some preachers get very excited in throwing in all sorts of emotive rhetorical questions to call the audience to action. No matter what the question is, every question is there to seek an answer, even if the answer is painfully obvious. By this bombardment of rhetorical questions, the preacher might cause the listener to feel frazzled. Thinking is great. Being badgered is not.

My suggestion on rhetorical questions is the same as for accessorizing men’s clothing or cologne. Less is more. If one rhetorical question, followed by a strategic pause, is good enough for the embellishment of the sermon, don’t use two. The audience will get the point of a well-placed question.

Video

Self-Analysis of a Sermon on Matthew 20.1-16

Tags

I preached this sermon in Jan. 2013 at Kowloon International Baptist Church. I’ve done a different presentation in Cantonese here (it’s so good to be bilingual and bicultural).  This passage challenges out notion of God. Its narrative makes strange sense. Even though many might try to say that the landowner’s action was justified in the ancient Palestinian context, the hirelings in the story thought otherwise. This story then is open to the question of whether the landowner was fair or not.

The danger of reading this passage in a straightforward manner comes from the fact that the payment was unfair. The resulting conclusion would be to see the kingdom as being unfair.

My close reading brings me to Matt. 20.1 where the word “for” directs our attention to the story of the rich man and Peter’s boast of having given up all for Jesus’ call. In light of the discussion about fairness, Jesus already told Peter that reward would far outweigh the cost (19.28-30). The question of fairness only comes after Jesus talked about reward.

In light of such a situation, Jesus wanted Peter to know that Peter would receive his due reward, but that the call was originally more in the favor of all those who were called. Grace was never fair because the call could not be earned. Without the call, every hireling would still stand on the street corner waiting for work.

Overall, I think most make too much of the theological meaning of 19.30 and 20.16.  I think if we understand and resolve the tension of Jesus’ sayings, the meaning of those two verses as plain as day.  They merely mean that Jesus came and turned the world upside down, much like his parable.  His parable then illustrates his mission.

There’re risks involved with this sermon besides the obvious popular misreading of Matthew 20. My presentation took big risks simply because my serious questioning of God’s character in most of the sermon. At the same time, I think most Christians avoid the awkward moment when we begin to ask hard questions the text raises.  Although the risk is great, I feel obligated to challenge people to track with the text to experience the tension.  Most Christians want an easy life by resolving any tension the text may bring.  In its format, this sermon’s proportion is also not even in that I devoted most of the time questioning God. I did this because my audience is already familiar with me, having both attended and preached in this church for more than two years.

The top heavy inquiry about God’s character is true to the text though because the entire text without the Peter context amounts of God being a cosmic bully. I think Jesus wanted the audience to think about fairness, the call and free grace. The thinking process is full of tension and mystery. I tried to re-create both.

When I teach preaching, I always tell my students to leave the tension without resolving it until the end. My reading of the “for” in 20.1 gives me adequate firepower to answer the question. I sincerely hope that my risk does not outweigh the reward, no more than Peter’s risk outweighs his reward.

Storytelling in Preaching: a reflection on the three-day lectures by Professor Thomas Long

The original Chinese article here.

Children needs stories because of their imaginative disposition, but certainly stories are not limited to children. As I said previously, stories can also exist even in the metaphors within the “propositional” biblical text as long as the preacher can trace the story behind it. The preacher cannot get away from stories. With the richly imaginative film-making technology, storytelling is more popular than ever among popular preachers. So popular that Prof. Thomas Long said that maybe we need to get back more to the teaching style of preaching in the US. Perhaps, elsewhere in Asia, storytelling is still not so popular. Maybe for Asia, storytelling is needed. The fact is, stories should not just be told, but be told within the sound exegetical confine of the text. They also need to be told in an ethical manner. This installment will explore the importance of stories and their roles in our sermon making.

Storytelling has two dimensions, both of which need to be considered. First dimension is the way biblical narrator tells the story. The second dimension is the way the preacher tells the story. Both are artistic and both help with the communication process in some ways. We must make note of the two and see if we can (or cannot) the two when we think about the presentation style of a sermon.

There are different kinds of storytelling styles, according to Long. First, there is the half-turn storytelling. If we imagine a movie camera shooting a scene, the storytelling is not quite in the scene but is a passive participant. My example from the Bible is the “we-section” of Acts. The narrator was somehow a participant but the focus was not on him. Some scholars think that the section is fully first-person narrative which I agree, but the degree of participation is minimal. Other than showing strong historicity in using the “first person eyewitness” voice, the narrator does not do much more other than moving from place to place with Paul. The focus is on Paul, not on the narrator. Second, storytelling can take the form of fully personal story. This style is straightforwardly obvious that the storyteller is a participant in the story. In fact, more times than not, he may be the focus of the story. It may be filled with “I” such as “when I was coming to church, I notice … then I … afterwards I …” This style of storytelling has its opponents who think that personal stories put the focus at the center of the sermon. I can however argue the opposite. Personal stories take away the preacher’s unnecessarily hierarchical role and make him the practitioner of what he preaches. When it is done right, personal stories put the text “above” the preacher who gladly submits under its authority.

Besides the half-turn and fully personal story, there is yet one more style of storytelling according to Long. This is called the fiction story, a made-up story. There are many preachers out there, especially among the Chinese population, who oppose the fiction, but wait a minute. Can we really limit our Christian imagination to only real historical stories? It appears that we cannot. Jesus used made-up stories all the time just to illustrate the point. Why Christians stay away from fiction baffles my mind. Perhaps, it is due to the modern Chinese culture being highly practical. Is there any reasonable way of using a made-up story? Yes, there is. Long makes an excellent suggestion by bringing “Let us imagine” or “What if” into the introduction of the fictional story. This is a suggestion with integrity because it alerts the audience that this was not a true story. Honesty is the real key here. We do not want people to mistake the story to be true, but at the same time, we do not have any good theological reason to limit our stories to something historical. The Christian imagination ought to be harnessed with integrity and not by mere culture.

Regarding storytelling, Long talks about the need for variations. This is indeed a hard task to accomplish. Some of us men preachers often talk of sports while some women preachers talk much about family and so on (though I’m guessing the reverse could be true in many cases as well). The point is that there is a need to provide variety so that we do not get stuck in a homiletical rut. How will we break the limit? Long suggests that we live homiletically. In other words, in our daily living, think often of our sermons through our experiences and observations. This then makes a preachers’ lifestyle different from others. We do not just watch TV for entertainment purposes; we also watch it for concepts helpful to our preaching.

One last word on storytelling also is relevant to our modern situation. Long points out the importance of asking for permission to retell a story. Preachers need permission to tell stories about family members, congregational members and their friends. This ought to be common sense to every speaker, but in my experience, it is far from common. Preachers constantly expose their family members like their wives and children to unnecessary limelight just to accomplish their homiletical ambition. The integrity of the preacher ought to be guided by the need to protect those who are related to the story. In the long run, this approach is both healthy and necessary. No sermon is worth breaking up relationships.

Give Them What They Need III: form follows function in a reflection on the three-day lectures by Professor Thomas Long

This blog continues to reflect on what Prof. Long has said in a slightly different direction. I didn’t write a Chinese article for this one, but here it is.  This blog talks about the literary movement of a biblical text. This movement has to impact the sermon form. If not, then there is a dissonance no matter how “doctrinally right” (whatever that terms means to my readers) the preacher is. This installment then is about “matching” the form of the sermon with the content of the biblical text.

Long lists one of his favorite Good Friday sermons called “Friday is here but Sunday is coming” by Tony Campolo. The brilliance of this sermon is that the repetition of the title helps sets the tone of the author’s literary movement in any of the Gospel books moves just that way. The entire book guides the movement of this single sermon, as any sermon should. Even if we stick to “one” single book with “one” single text for sermon, we would have our hands full figuring out the movement without resorting to doing concordance proof texts from other parts of the Bible, but what about smaller units like the Psalms. The answer is quite a bit less complicated actually.

Long in his discussion uses Ps. 19 which is an all-time favorite Psalm for so many believers as an example. He notes that the Psalm has several movements, mostly likely indicating the well thought out compositional strategy of David. From Ps. 19.1-6, there’s a description of a heavenly song that no one can quite make out the words. After all, the heavens “declare” and the Psalms were originally set to music. What the heaven “says” and how their voice “goes out” in Ps. 19.1, 4, no one knows. However, the revelation of what it “says” is clear; God is glorious. David got the message. Then, the tone changes at Ps. 19.7-11, as David found real words from the Torah that could instruct him. Thus, the Psalm moved from a wordless and picturesque situation to a word-centered situation. The final move is in Ps. 19.12-14 where David ends in solemn prayer. In other words, the song moves from wordless to the Torah word to finally a personal word (“word of my mouth”). The movement of the Psalm starts light at the beginning and slowly moves with more gravity with the Torah and finally moves to a reflective prayerful mood.

Now, this is a great example of preaching the mood and form of the text. If we were to use all the rhetorical tools of the last installment of my articles, what could we do? We have to talk about what the audience needs. The sermon audience needs to have four things in order to understand any sermon according to Long: repetition; framework; transitions, and illustrations.

What should be repeated in order to show the real issue of this Psalm? I’m not going to provide an answer, but my readers should determine whether this Psalm is about the glory of God as Ps. 19.1 states or perhaps the importance of the Torah or the importance of both. Let me suggest some alternatives. If the thrust is about the glory of God, then, the repetition is easy. If it is about the importance of the Torah, then the repetition about the “heaven declares” ought to be followed by “more importantly, the Torah is where God’s will is really known”. If it is about both, then the repetition should be something like “since both the heaven and the Torah declares God’s majesty …” and then we put in an application or illustration right after.

We then have to decide the framework. What kind of framework fits the text of the Psalm? The answer is once again “It depends.” The Psalm has three movements which can create a three –point sermon, except the three points are not evenly distributed. Would a jewel pattern approach be better? Well, it depends on whether we see the text as having different aspects of “one major theme” from the beginning to the end. Would the “then and now” pattern fit? I suggest that this pattern is best served through historical narratives. Would the Hegelian “conflict and synthesis” pattern work? It may not unless we see the praise of heaven being in complete conflict against the Torah (some radical conservative may). Would the guessing game “Is the answer this, that, or the other?” work? I think the passage is clear enough to say that this guessing game approach does not work. So far, we can see that certain patterns work while others definitely do not.

We now have to decide the transition. Now, this step depends on the first step in terms of what needs to be repeated. The repeated phrase can be used to bolster the clarity of the outline so that the audience can follow the sermon. Finally, we have to pick illustrations. The illustrations can be an analogy, example or metaphor. The Psalms does not directly call for some ethical action, thus negating the need for plenty of examples for listeners to follow. Yet, the Psalm is highly descriptive of many images. So, a major metaphor may be easy to formulate. For example, when preaching this Psalm, I like to use the book as a metaphor with God writing a book of different chapters with first being nature and second being the Torah in order to show Himself. Thus, we can use this metaphor all the way through and use analogical stories about reading in order to enrich this sermon. This too would be most helpful.

Give Them What They Need? II: a reflection on the three-day lectures by Professor Thomas Long

Image

The original Chinese article here.

The last blog talks about the possible things the audience needs in order to understand a sermon. Professor Thomas Long gives four possible answers from the last blog. Here, he proposes four different answers of his own of what the audience needs.

First, Long states that the audience needs some kind of clue which answers the question, “What is this sermon about?” The tool by which they can learn the message is repetition. I have said in my exegesis classes that each passage, if our division of it is right, probably has one major point with a range of possible meanings within it. Yet, we do not depart from that major point into other “impossible meanings.” Yet, in my preaching class, I turn my attention to whether they all generally get that point. A lot times, when people are confused, they ask, “What’s your point?” The trouble with the sermon is that the audience does not often talks back until quite a while after the event. Therefore, the preacher ought to make his point clear as day so that there is no mistake as to what he is trying to say. Since he suggests repetition as a tool, our next question to ask is “What is worth repeating?” Based on my years in the pulpit, I would say two possible things are worth repeating, either the main issue or the main question. We may pick either one, but not both at the risk of confusing the audience. It is not that many in the audience cannot grasp the repetition of two simultaneous things, but there is always a risk when we add more into the mix.

Second, Long states that the audience needs framework. If a sermon is a nicely crafted piece of clothing, the framework is the best coat hanger on which the craftsmanship can be displayed. For those who think that if we preach using a storytelling style, we do not need an outline, Long would say, “Nonsense”. Long is a big advocate for outline. All outlines are not only exegetically based, but are in some sense, homemade. Each pastor has his own audience and pastoral situation which can inform him of the kind of outline is needed. Long lists some sample outlines that follow the following patterns. The patterned outline (e.g. three-point outline) creates a rhythm in the audience’s mind. The jewel pattern creates an impression that goes around a single point through different perspectives. The then-and-now outline (my own preferred framework for preaching biblical narratives) bridges the ancient and the modern worlds. The Hegelian pattern shows a thesis-antithesis-synthesis logic. The “guessing game” outline asks the big question “Is the answer this, that, or some others?” to which the sermon answers with an either-or solution or “a bit of both” solution. To me, these are all excellent patterns that will serve the preacher for a long time. The important thing for me is whether the passage under scrutiny fits this or that framework better. Sometimes, there is no right answer. Other times, the answer is as clear as the argument of the biblical passage.

Third, Long uses “follow-ability” to describe the hearing need the audience. This means that the sermon is not hard to follow in that the audience would not get weighed down by the large chunks of information. I think the best way to do this is to provide adequate transitions. The repetitions stated above can be good transition tools. Transition basically serves to show (but not necessarily tell) the audience what has gone on before and what is coming next. This is an important quality because by transition, we break up parts of the sermon into digestible portions much like the way we chop pieces of meat before stir frying so that we do not eat such a big chunk. Transition is the means by which the preacher keeps the audience from indigestion.

Fourth, Long talks of illustrations. He has named three different types: analogy, example, metaphor. It is natural to think about illustrations “after” our discussion on transitions. Storytelling style of preaching is attractive, except it also presents special risks to both preachers and listeners. Stories themselves are open to misunderstanding especially if the listener has an overactive imagination. The way to keep the illustrations from running away is to put a fence called transition around it so that the illustration is fenced in within its own section. That section with its own illustration should function alone by itself without contamination of other sections. Clear transition which divides up sections can protect illustrations. Now, we move on to the three illustration types. Analogy includes the word “like” in order to concretize an otherwise abstract concept into everyday life experience. Example should serve as the kind of exhortation that shows how certain principles work out in action. Metaphor, which Long considers the most dangerous of all illustrations, contains a condensed narrative which plays itself out in a singular figure. Sometimes its rich narrative world is sufficient to be used throughout the sermon starting at the beginning all the way to the end. In Proverbs, for example, a saying can have huge narrative world behind its metaphor. The preacher’s job is to trace back into the world of the story from the metaphor.

In conclusion, the suggestions above are very helpful only if the exegesis is in place. These tools can be misused when the preacher does not take the text seriously and focus on something substantial. The satisfaction of leaning on “traditional” (whatever that means) interpretation will do more harm than good when the preacher uses these rhetorical tools to express wrong ideas.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,330 other followers