Homiletics – Just a Practical Subject?

I recently heard a comment I’ve heard at various times and in various forms.  Essentially it was a reference to homiletics as if it were a subject of tips for public speaking, a merely practical subject that may or may not be very important in the curriculum of a training institution.  Tips for speaking, suggestions on sermon construction, it is really just a fringe subject.

While acknowledging that my perspective may be a bit biased as someone who teaches homiletics, I would beg to differ.  In my own experience of seminary training, it was in homiletics that everything converged.

Bible study methods, exegetical training and biblical theology training converged in homiletics.  Finally I discovered how the various elements of fine training coalesced into a coherent whole, with a purposeful goal.  Instead of feeling like Bible study would always be both a joyful privilege and an endless task – with the various potential avenues of study never adequately traveled – I saw the personal and corporate fruit of biblical studies as a whole.

The bar is raised on all subjects by homiletics.  We have probably all heard the old adage that to learn something well you should teach it.  It’s true, having to communicate something verbally to others does stimulate us to learn it at a higher level.  So while we may feel blessed to learn about church history and theology and so on, it is when we seek to bring these things to bear in the lives of others that we ourselves learn at a whole new level.

Spiritual formation and Christian devotion feeds into homiletics, which lies at the heart of church ministry, the focus of God’s work in the world.  The privilege of the preacher is to shepherd souls, it is soul care – both evangelistically and in edification.  This is not mere information transfer, but pastoral ministry in focused form.  There are numerous other fields of pastoral ministry, all of which matter and should be taught, but in some way or other, each feeds something into homiletics.  

In a sense all subjects converge in homiletics.  While some like to say systematic theology is the queen of the sciences, perhaps it is worth considering homiletics as the pinnacle of pastoral and theological education?

Too often homiletics is taught as a little addendum, an almost token seminar in public speaking tacked onto a robust theological education.  Let’s think again about the importance of homiletics – for the sake of the institutions, but much more importantly, for the sake of the church.

Preaching Curriculum

We all have our unique interests.  One of mine is curricula.  I love looking at the curricula of Bible schools, or helping to think through new possibilities for Bible schools (perhaps adding a second year to a one year program, etc.)  So perhaps it is only me that would enjoy the last of the chapters in Explosive Preaching, where the author describes the one-year curriculum he helped to design for a house-church movement in China.  The radical design is worth sharing, not only for those who share my fascination with things academic, but for all of us as a good nudge in our level of preparation for preaching.  Here’s the 66:33:1 curriculum:

66 – Each student, by the end of the year, has to be ready to preach (without notes) a one-hour sermon on each of the 66 books of the Bible.  This sermon is to include an outline of the content of the book, and contemporary application to the individual, the church and the nation of China.  At the end of the year, 3 books would be selected at random, then the student has five seconds to launch into their message.

33 – Each student had to prepare 33 one-hour sermons on the life and work of Christ, each based on a single verse (only 10 allowed from outside the gospels).  His whole ministry must be covered, from pre-existence to second coming (although I’d suggest His ministry extends beyond the second coming!)  Interestingly, students are allowed one page of notes per sermon in this category!

1 – Each student has to prepare an “end-of time” sermon – any length (since time constraints are irrelevant in eternity).  The goal is to help the student consider the whole salvation story from God’s point of view.  Perhaps at the great feast we will get to enjoy such a sermon looking back over it all . . . but would we be ready to give the sermon?

So there it is.  A creative and probably very effective curriculum.  If you had one year to train a preacher, what would you include?