Preparing in Silence?

“A lot of preachers are introverts because they need to be able to prepare on their own for hours.”  “Preaching is an oral event, yet the preparation of outlining and manuscripting is all pursued using written language skills.”  “Silence is the soil in which sermons sprout.”

All statements with some truth to them.  But also all statements that indicate a subtle tension between preparation and delivery of a spoken sermon.  A lot of preachers are introverts, perhaps for the reason stated.  So much of our preaching training is essentially an adaptation of skills for producing written work.  And there is a definite place for silence in the context of walking with Christ – as essential if preaching is truly a “God-event.”

So this post is not about turning all preparation upside down and advocating sermon preparation with loud music on, or in the midst of conversation.  (Actually there are preachers that find it helpful to do the message formation phase of their preparation in a public place – like Starbucks – in order to be able to better think through who they will be speaking to . . . a thought to ponder, perhaps.)

A couple of suggestions, though, in light of the oral nature of preaching:

1. Don’t just pray then prepare, but pray during out loud preparation. That is, don’t just pray and then work on the sermon.  Try praying as you prepare.  Talk through your thinking out loud, in conversation with the Lord.  Say your thoughts out loud, and also talk about what you are saying.  Why not?  It might help your thoughts to form in coherent oral form, it might help your prayer to be more than introductory, it might help you notice when your mind has drifted away from the task at hand for the last twenty minutes!

2. Don’t always write, then talk, but invert the process. We are trained to pray, then read, then write, then talk.  Why in that order?  Why not keep the prayer going throughout, but instead read, then talk, then write?  Often a written sermon won’t deliver well, but a well-delivered sermon can always be written in some form or other.  Talking through the message earlier in the week will almost certainly help you know where you are in the process far more than looking at your notes will!

Preaching is a spoken event.  Perhaps we need to prepare appropriately.

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Do We Preach Written Texts?

It seems obvious, but as preachers of the Bible we are preachers of written texts.  Or are we?  I am not questioning the inspiration of the Bible – my view of Scripture is as high as ever.  I am sharing a helpful prod I received this week in a book I was reading.  In this book there was a critique of the standard writer/text/reader model of New Testament communication – an overly simplistic model, perhaps.  The writer suggested it would be helpful to consider the actual process involved in communicating a New Testament epistle.  The process suggested was Author-Secretary-Courier-Reader, with oral “rehearsal” included at various stages.  The author was not sitting at a desk with quill in hand, but dictating so the secretary (amanuensis) could inscribe the letter.  The author was also concerned with the ability of the courier to be able to then read the text effectively, for the recipients weren’t reading their mail, but rather listening to the spoken word (probably numerous times).

While the writer/text/reader model of communication is simple and accurate at a certain level, it does fall short in representing the orality of the original text.  Perhaps we have not given the Bible text, especially the epistles in this case, enough credit for their oral-communication features.  Literary features abound and so do the scholarly studies into them.  But perhaps there is a need for more studies into the orality features of the biblical text?  And as preachers, perhaps we need to think more about the oral nature of the texts we preach.  There are many possible implications.

Do we preach written texts?  Yes.  But more than that, we preach spoken texts written in order to be spoken, and very importantly, heard.