Over the years I’ve taught preaching in university courses and mentored a number of preaching apprentices and preachers-in-training. This series summarizes some of the most basic yet most useful preaching points I’ve emphasized in these settings.
Preaching Point #3: Listen to the text in first person singular (what does it say to me?) before you listen to it in first person plural (what does it say to us/the church?).
Thom Long writes about the “witness of preaching.” The church sends the preacher on its behalf to encounter God through his word and then to testify to the church what he has witnessed in that word. But the great temptation in preaching is to move immediately to the question, What is God saying to the church through this word? After all, that’s our role isn’t it? We’ve been commissioned to listen to the word for the church’s sake and, like Moses coming down from the mountain, to share with the church what God has spoken.
I have found, however, that when this is the only question I bring to a text, my preaching tends to be like a second-hand witness. It lacks depth and authenticity because I’ve not first humbled myself and asked this question: What is God saying to me through this word? I do not have credibility as a witness if I have not genuinely wrestled with this question before wrestling with the other question.
This is why I practice Lectio Divina on the texts I’m preaching from. Three to four weeks before I start asking What is God saying to the church through this text? I engage in Lectio Divina for a week on an upcoming text. My sole purpose in these times is to let God address me before he addresses them.
Sometimes there is congruence between what God wants to tell me and what God wants to tell them. My sermon thus focuses on one thing God’s spoken personally to me and pastorally/prophetically to the church. Many times, however, there is not congruence. What I preach to the church is different than what God preached to me. Yet even when there is a vast difference between the two, my personal encounter helps inform and shape the encounter I have on behalf of the church.
How do you listen to a text in first person singular? How do you listen to a text in first person plural? How do you distinguish what God’s saying to you through a text and what God’s saying to the people you’ll be preaching to?