Saturday, March 14, 2009

Advice for the preacher

I saw this over on The Deacon's Bench, a favorite blog of mine, and thought it was worth sharing. I agree completely with these points:

Over at Inside Catholic, David Mills is offering some sound advice for preachers. It all makes good sense to me. (Personally, the best advice I ever heard on this topic came from a layman who once said, "Good sermons don't say 'You sinners,' but 'We bums.'")

Anyway...take a look:

1) Stay in the pulpit. Not only because it is the Place for Preaching, a sign of the authority with which you speak, but because staying there may also help you remember that you are a servant of the Word and of the Church. Standing in the aisle with a microphone can tempt the humblest man to think he's the star, and will tempt almost anyone to play to the crowd (Did they get the joke? Are they smiling? Do they look bored? How can I get them back?). Plus you can keep your manuscript or outline there.

2) Preach from a complete outline or a manuscript. A few people can offer complex, developed ideas from memory, but you are probably not one of them. The value of a sermon often lies in your sharing something one or two or three levels deeper than the obvious lesson, which needs to be explained with some care and precision. Very, very few men can do this off the top of their heads. You will need to practice speaking this way to do it well -- if you write out the sermon, reread the manuscript till you've got it at least half memorized -- but better to have substance read a little stiffly than piffle well-delivered. And having an outline or manuscript will keep you from running on.

3) Speak in a personal voice, using "I" and "you." I mean the kind of voice you hear in G. K. Chesterton's or C. S. Lewis's writing, not the kind of self-display you get from a guest on Oprah. Your hearer should think you are trying to show him something you see, not trying to make you look at him. Though you are speaking as an authority, and ought to speak with authority, you are also a man speaking to friends. Most people speak more clearly when they're talking to someone they know than when they are speaking to an abstraction called "the congregation" or "the 10-o'clock crowd." And most people listen better when they're being addressed by a friend rather than a lecturer.

Use "we" only when you are part of the group to which you're referring. Some priests use "we" when they mean "you guys" or "some of you" or "those jerks." This by itself makes a sermon abstract and sound insincere. Your listeners will know when you are not speaking honestly, when your "we" is just a cheap way of claiming an identity you don't have or pretending you're not criticizing someone else.

4) Speak from your own experience and your own knowledge. If you have a story from your own life that illustrates the lesson, tell it -- but only if it works as a story. A good rule is not to tell a story about yourself you would not tell if it were about someone else, and don't tell any story that does not have a direct relation to your theme.

5) Never use a cultural reference, especially a pop cultural reference, to look knowledgeable or hip or to "connect" with your people. It's annoying, like a 50-year-old wearing his baseball cap backward. And you'll probably get the reference wrong anyway, or you'll use one your people have already heard half-a-dozen times. (I don't know how many sermons I've heard that opened with the same quote from Joseph Heller's 1974 novel Something Happened, one of which I heard just last year.) Only use such references when you would use them in conversation and un-self-consciously.

Check out the link for the rest. Then, print it out and give it to a priest or deacon you know!

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