Some may remember a comedian, a Christian, from the late 1970s and 1980s, Mike Warnke. If you missed that era here are two things to know: 1) he was a funny storyteller, and 2) we learned years later some of his stuff was made up.
I had one of his early albums where he described his first attempts at preaching. Warnke told of running out and buying a white suit just like the one Dave Wilkerson made famous. After realizing he was never going to be the next Dave Wilkerson he senses that God did not call him to give his impersonation of Dave Wilkerson but to be himself.
Years later, in college, I took my first preaching class. We read Phillips Brook’s book , Lectures on Preaching: Delivered Before the Divinity School of Yale College in January and February, 1877 (Classic Reprint). A line from that book has stayed with me,
“Preaching is truth conveyed through personality.”Phillips Brooks
Over the years I have been reminded I am no Billy Graham or even Craig Groeschel. I am not.
Since there are those with whom we are always compared, I think maybe one day, with enough persistence, I may yet make a preacher. That is no appeal for affirmation. It acknowledges that there is always room for improvement, always time to learn. You are never too old.
Last fall I attended a one day conference, The Art of Black Preaching, at Oklahoma Baptist University, my alma mater. One of the decisions I made after the event was to read and listen to more sermons in 2019. Let’s just say that if I had read or listened to just a few more sermons, as a pastor, that would be more than normal. I committed to reading or listening to a sermon a day. Call it my New Year’s Resolution. Here we are in November and by my count, I am at or ahead of that goal. Remember, preachers only work one day a week.
One feature of my resolution was to read and listen outside my normal sources, even if the practice was rare for me. Over the last ten plus months my reading/listening included Fleming Rutledge, B.A. Gerrish, Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon, a diverse group of folks in Phil Snider’s edited collection, Preaching As Resistance, The Mockingpulpit podcast, St. George’s in NYC podcast, Jason Micheli’s podcast at Tamed Cynic and several manuscripts and briefs from Kenyatta R. Gilbert’s, Exodus Preaching: Crafting Sermons About Justice and Hope.
The speakers at the Art of Black Preaching suggested books attenders may want to pick up. I did. Recently I finished Kenyatta R. Gilbert’s, Exodus Preaching: Crafting Sermons about Justice and Hope. Maybe it is important to restate the conference theme was Black Preaching. Check my social media channels or the About page on this blog and it is clear I am not, Black. Those in the SBC currently hypersensitive and ready to raise their hackles over intersectional studies will soon be apoplectic when I suggest that it is good for a White pastor/preacher to read and listen to Black preachers. Our context is different. Our history is different. Call that anything but obvious and you are barking up the wrong ideological tree. Rather than criticize why not listen? Here is how Gilbert defines Exodus Preaching,
African-American prophetic preaching (alternatively termed Exodus preaching) is “interpretation” that brings clarity to the sacred (the realities of God, revealed truth, highest moral values, and so on) and articulates what should be an appropriate human response to the sacred. The preacher who preaches prophetically does not treat social justice (or other sacred values) as something independent from God but as being rooted in and emanating from God. Exodus preaching does not take place in a vacuum, nor is it self-generated discourse; rather, it is daring speech that offers a vision of divine intent. It reveals a picture of what God intends and expects of God’s human creation – a picture that enables persons and faith communities to interpret their situation in light of God’s justice and to name as sin activities that frustrate God’s life-giving purpose.
Gilbert is as concerned with crafting sermons as he is demonstrating how the words of the preacher intersect contemporary issues. His final chapter, Preaching Jesus “of the Gospels”, is a recap and brief explication of material covered in another book. He ends with a sermon he delivered annotated in a way that draws out an illustration of his instructional aim. Between the Introduction and the final chapter Kenyatta fills out the subtitle with these chapters complete with illustrations of full or partial sermons,
- Exodus Imagery and Sermonic Performance
- Unmasking Evil and Dethroning Idols
- Confronting Human Tragedy and Communal Despair
- Naming Reality in a Tone-Deaf Culture
- Inventive Speech and Poetic Perception
My friend Scott Jones recently had Kenyatta on his Lectionary podcast, Synaxis, to discuss that week’s Scriptures. You may want to click over and not only check out the podcast but also to listen in as Gilbert makes suggestions for the preacher that no doubt grows from his work as both a preacher and teacher of preachers.
There is still time. I may make a preacher yet.