Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Boundaries of Preaching

In a recent conversation about how to speak in worship with a member of my congregation, I found myself suddenly realizing something about my own preaching.  I have a pattern of sorts, one that has formed over the years.  

My sermons typically begin with a framing image or story, something that establishes a mood or a ground or evokes common ground.  In terms of classical rhetoric, it establishes a common ethos...but it's also an opportunity for plain ol' storytelling.   From that, I move towards the scripture for the day, calling out both details about the content and the central theological point.  Then, the movement is towards the implications for our response to that encounter.  What does the theology and the spirit we've just engaged with tell us about how we are to live, and how we are to act?

It's a fairly consistent pattern.  But I'd never really thought about where that pattern came from.  It was just there.   But then I realized, in the middle of a conversation about how to be creative and yet maintain form, that the pattern of my preaching had a familiar movement.

It was the classical Reformed pattern of worship.  In that, we prepare for the Word, receive the Word, and respond to the Word.  Huh, thought I, as I mused on this.  Go figure.  Somehow, the structure of worship outside of the sermon had moved into the sermon, acting as the strange attractor that gave form and shape to the energies of my preaching.

This recent realization played interestingly against a recent blog @landonwhittsit about the varying approaches to preaching.  Do we go with texts or go with presentation software?  Do we preach rocking hard against the pulpit, or wander wild and free amongst our congregants?  There were a range of responses...but as I mused over my own techniques, I began to wonder where exactly the boundaries of preaching are for me.  

I work from a manuscript, more or less, for a range of reasons.  But the message embedded in that sermon doesn't begin and end when I start and stop talking.  The whole worship resonates with it, by design and intent.  It's an organic part of a greater whole.  The prayers harmonize with it, the readings ground it, and the hymns sing it out.  I'm not really done preaching until I've finished the benediction.  Just as the worship presses its way into the preaching, so too does the preaching radiate out into the rest of the worship.