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Preaching Articles

Preachers: Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to preach the life-affirming, justice-seeking, boundary-breaking Word of God.

No big deal. Right? You’re the capital “P,” Preacher. You got this. A little three-points, a little seven steps for a happy marriage, a little narrative razzle-dazzle, a little PowerPoint. Boom! Done. On to the next one.

I say, to hell with such nonsense. Literally. We are called to proclaim the very Word of the Everlasting God. Let us never forget, not for one second, that such a charge is impossible.

Yesterday, I saw the latest edition of the ever-expanding Mission Impossible franchise. It was awesome! The best one yet, in fact. I highly recommend it -- you’re a preacher, after all; you could use a little me-time.

As I sat there in the crowded movie theater, white-knuckling the sticky plastic cup holder, something occurred to me. Why don’t I feel this way when I preach?

If you’ve seen any of the Mission Impossible films, then you know that they never fail to live up to their namesake. Even though we’ve seen Ethan Hunt wriggle out of countless near-death experiences, even though we’ve seen him luge, dive, climb, shimmy, and fight his way out of impossibly tight situations, when you are watching the film you wonder, maybe not this time. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is no exception. If anything, they up the ante on impossibility.

Let me ask you a question. When you make the long, lonely walk to the pulpit to proclaim the Word of God for the people of God, how often do you hear the Mission Impossible soundtrack playing in your mind? Dun-dun-da-dun. Dun-dun-da-dun. I never hear that sound. But I should. And so should you. What if God doesn’t show up? What if we aren’t able to diffuse the bomb that is the gospel in time? Commence cold sweat.

Preaching is impossible. That God’s Word would appear on human lips! Impossible. Like Ethan Hunt we are charged to accomplish an impossible task, but our mission is even more perilous. We don’t have fancy gadgets and body armor. Sure, we try. We use Prezi and YouTube and Twitter to try to make our sermons snazzier. But these are mere window dressing. Preaching, at its core, is about you showing up in the hope that by some mysterious act of brilliance, God will show up, too.

The late, great theologian Karl Barth -- who knew a thing or two about the impossible mission that is preaching -- once wrote, “The Moment when God, not [a human], speaks and acts, is the Moment of Miracle. And men [and women] have attained the utmost limit of their vigorous action when, possessing the status of John the Baptist, and filled with awe, they bear witness to God and to [God’s] Miracle.”1 Barth is right. Preaching is a capital-M Moment. No matter how skilled we are, no matter how sophisticated our exegesis, no matter how many times we’ve read Luther’s Small Catechism or Calvin’s Institutes, we cannot escape the impossibility of preaching.

This is why preaching-as-teaching is not worthy of our time. It is beneath our calling. Because the Word of God calls for more than something that we know that we can do, we must not abide in the safe Sunday sun of lemonade sipping, sear-suckers, and sundresses. Our calling is into the shadows, into uncertainty, into the mysteries of the universe where God whispers to us and, by the grace of God, through us. We need to live and proclaim lives of faith. Abraham. Sampson. Ruth. Jesus. Paul. These are the stories that form us, that awaken us to a way of being in the world beyond the mundane and beyond the laissez-faire consciousness bolstered far too much by Western Christianity. You, preacher, are also called to such impossible feats of faithfulness.

Let us embrace the impossibility of our task as preachers. Let us set sail from the shallows to the depths where the Spirit of God may do the impossible in and through us. Let us lean toward the world in love -- and love offers no guarantees. Love walks the tightrope without a net. Such will change everything we’ve come to learn about sermon development and delivery -- oh, and by the way, when you’re doing it right, when you are preaching the impossible, your message will self-destruct.


Notes:

1 Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th ed., trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1933), 422.

Jacob D. Myers is a Ph.D. student at Emory University working at the intersection of homiletical theory, poststructural thought and emerging Christianity. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Jacob has served churches in Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In addition to his doctoral work, Jacob serves as an adjunct preaching instructor at Candler School of Theology and Columbia Theological Seminary and is on the editorial staff for Practical Matters, a transdisciplinary multimedia journal of religious practices and practical theology.

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William Howard

commented on Oct 5, 2015

Show me scripture that backs up "Why preaching is impossible".

Ronnie Dale Simpson

commented on Oct 5, 2015

You have no Scripture in your narrative to back up such an exclusive paradigm.

commented on Oct 5, 2015

I just listened to sermon on Job that left us wanting more. I had already studied Job and still learn more and sat spellbound waiting for the next part. Know the scripture, engage the congregation and let the Holy Spirit lead. ,

Dale C

commented on Oct 5, 2015

Before suggesting that others watch a PG-13 program, consider this. Are you guilty of misusing the Lord's holy name if you pay to listen to others doing it? Hearing it from live humans is different than paying or willfully subjecting yourself to it. Not to mention the lust and other unholy material in movies.

commented on Oct 5, 2015

1. Anyone who thinks, as he is climbing the pulpit, that preaching is possible is not going to preach; he is going to harangue, coax, reassure, teach and a whole load else, but that won't be preaching. For preaching is speaking the very word/words of God into men's lives. And who can say will happen when they don't know if God will turn up. (I am always amazed at how few preachers will turn up on a Sunday and confess 'I do not know what God says in this passage. I have not found in here the Sword of the Spirit, let alone believed that God will turn up to use it today. So therefore I will preach to you again an earlier sermon where God did turn up, and hope and pray that He will grace us again today too' Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain) 2. Teaching is something else - it is good but it is not preaching. We talk about God; we do not hear God. But it is better than nothing, just so long as we are not satisfied with it. 3. But, Jacob, when you say "We need to live and proclaim lives of faith. Abraham. Sampson. Ruth. Jesus. Paul. These are the stories that form us..", sorry that can't be right. These stories point to Christ and not to these men (listen to Ed Clowney and Tim Keller together on 'Preaching Christ in the OT'). God only shows up when we are focussed on Him, not these other guys.

William Howard

commented on Oct 5, 2015

Peter did not find it impossible, nor did Paul, Stephen (died because of it), Phillip or you (Spirit filled preachers who don't find preaching impossible). Romans 10:14-15

Estwick Coulthrust

commented on Oct 5, 2015

Jacob, I think you been watching too much mission impossible, so now you think this mission is impossible. Jesus Himself commanded us to preach, so how is it so impossible. Only if we don't preach with His Spirit leading us, and teaching us, and guiding us...get the point Jacob?

Eric Monier

commented on Oct 7, 2015

Jacob, I would like to hear more about what you meant by the statement that "preaching-as-teaching is not worthy of our time. It is beneath our calling." This sounds kind of weird and arrogant to me. Sorry, just being honest.

David Yocom

commented on Oct 9, 2015

(2nd Tim 4:2) - Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

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