The point of this week’s session is to help us pastors develop additional skills in “Transformational Preaching,” so the main presenters for the week are Dr. Michael Quicke, a professor of preaching and communication at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, and Lori Carrell who is a professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
The point of having the two of them work together in presenting the material for this week is so that we get to think about preaching from both the perspective of the preacher and the listener. It’s an interesting concept especially since Lori has written a book based on her research into what people in churches would say to their pastors if they had the chance.
It sounds like a great combination right?
Well, day #1 hasn’t impressed me. Now, I know that I can’t really make snap judgments about how the whole week is going to go based on the first presentations from the first day, but then again, I’m thinking, “These are supposed to be some of the best communicators who are coming to teach us about communication, and they are boring me to death.”
Ok, it’s not really that bad.
When Mike and Lori got up to begin their presentation tonight, I was encouraged because Mike took out his Bible and said that before they actually got into the material for the evening, he wanted to share with us from one of his favorite passages of Scripture.
I was getting really excited by that because I love to hear homiletics professors give brief sermonettes. It is usually so refreshing to hear the briefest of sermons from a person who is a highly skilled preacher. They can generally encapsulate amazing thoughts in a few words, and it usually is quite inspiring to me.
He read from Luke 5:4ff which is the story of Jesus teaching the crowds from Simon Peter’s boat. Then, when he is done teaching, Jesus tells Simon to put out for deeper water and let down his nets for a catch. Simon objects, but complies and brings in such a catch of fish that the nets begin to break. The story ends with Simon falling at Jesus’ feet and Jesus telling Simon that from then on he will be a fisher of men.
It’s a great story of how Jesus has the power to transform a person’s life. It shows how Jesus completely affirms Simon for who he is as a fisherman and how Jesus offers the fulfillment of Simon’s life as a fisherman by giving him the catch of his life, but how Jesus does it for the purpose of moving Simon beyond that life into a life of deeper meaning. Perhaps there is also a foretelling of the success Peter will have as a fisher of men. Jesus is the one who can bring in a great harvest of fish, and Jesus will also empower Simon to become the Preacher Peter who draws 3000 men to be saved on the day of Pentecost just a few years later.
That’s the point of the story. However, Mike made some kind of comment about how when we move into deeper waters, that’s where the happenings of God happen. Mike said that he hoped as we move into deeper waters, we would know the happenings of God.
I’m generally really critical about other people and their preaching because I’m quite critical of my own, but I’m never as critical as I am when it comes to people who completely miss the point of the text. The point of the text is the incredible power Jesus has to fulfill a person’s life, to change a person’s life after fulfilling it, and it points to a future fulfillment in that person’s life too.
Jesus is the one who changes people’s lives. What better beginning for a week on transformational preaching than to begin with a lesson on how real transformation comes from the hand of Jesus himself! But Mike missed the point entirely! He just said that we can look for “God-happenings” when we get into “deep water.” Oh, come on!
The next part of the meeting was a “conversation” that took place somewhat between Mike an Lori where they each sat on a stool and shared with us some details of their personal journeys.
That took too long, and I was amazed at how the University professor of communication appeared to have trouble forming her thoughts and stating them out loud. By that, I mean that her tempo of speaking was much slower than I expected, with many pauses and a general sense that she was “rambling” after she had made her point.
Of course, that could have just been my subjective interpretation of it, but that’s that.
After the conversation time, Lori sat down and Mike took the stage to present what they called the “Keynote.”
Leadership and preaching shouldn’t be separated.
His first major point was that there is a dangerous situation going on in our churches these days where we are separating leadership from preaching. We are talking a lot about leadership as if it is the central component of all ministry, when just a few years ago, people were talking about preaching as the central component of ministry.
Further, in his research over the past few years, he has recognized that in all the literature on leadership, no one is talking about what specific role preaching plays in leadership. His claim, though, is that preaching is essential to leadership and they shouldn’t be separated from each other.
He’s writing a book on the topic, and so he spent the rest of the time outlining what he saw as preaching that fails to lead. He called it “thin-blooded preaching.”
10 Traits of Thin-Blooded Preaching
- Individualistic — sermons that ignore the corporate nature of the church and focus exclusively instead on the individual person’s response are sermons that cannot lead.
- Cerebral OR Emotional — many sermons are one or the other, but to lead people well, you have to do both.
- Spineless Theology — many preachers act as if the sermon were 90% human effort either on the part of the preacher or the listener and practically ignore the powerful role of the Holy Spirit to bring understanding and conviction to people.
- General Application — too many sermons could have been preached 50 years ago with the kind of generalized application and illustration they contain. Where’s the relevance to today?
- Avoiding Conflict — preaching doesn’t lead if it avoids potential conflict.
- Low Compliance — thin-blooded preaching has no real expectation that people will actually change as a result.
- Absence of process issues — thin-blooded preaching fails to connect with the vision and goals.
- Solo Preaching — preachers who prepare and preach without any kind of collaboration preach thin-blooded messages.
- Missionally Defective.
We were asked then to reflect upon this list to see if we possessed any of the characteristics of thin-blooded preaching, and I can see that I don’t do a whole lot of collaboration in my message preparation, but it is something I have wanted to try for a while now.
I have chosen that as my action step / takeaway for today.
The Evening Session
Lori led the evening session and it was a session to accomplish two things:
- She wanted to dispel some myths about communication
- She wanted to share with us what listeners are saying about our sermons.
Myths of communication
Here are the myths that she challenged
- Communication is the answer.
- Whenever two human beings are in each other’s presence, they are communicating. They don’t have to be talking to be communicating. We constantly assign meaning to the actions of other people.
- Therefore, there is never a lack of communication, and more communication is never the answer.
- It’s not an issue of quantity but quality.
- Communication is a good thing.
- Communication is neither inherently good or bad. It just is.
- Communication is “sender to receiver.”
- If we think that by saying a couple words we can take an idea from our head and put it into the head of another person, we are fooling ourselves. Communication is never one way. Instead, communication is the “co-creation of meaning.”
- Some people have the “gift” of communication.
- Every single human being has been given the “gift” of the ability to communicate in some way or another with other people.
- In good communication, it’s all about content.
- Content alone can never fully represent all that human communication is.
- Communication is always relational too.
- Communication is content & relationship, clarity & empathy.
- Spoken words don’t have as much power as the written word.
- Say that to anyone who has ever been deeply hurt by the spoken word of a distant parent or a cruel sibling.
- Spoken words can stay with a person for life, and the spoken word of the gospel can stay with a person for eternity.
What Listeners Want to Say to Preachers
The second half of Lori’s talk was to present the main findings of her research (recorded in her book). She had surveyed 102 churches (she didn’t tell us which ones) and asked both pastors and congregants to respond.
In the survey, there were a couple remarkable things that came out.
The number one reason people in the surveys attended their church was for the sermon.
Based on that, Lori exhorted us to realize that preaching really matters.
Her survey also asked the question of people, “What one thing would you like to say to the preachers of America?”
Here were the top 3 themes that came up in people’s answers.
- Provide a relevant message with clear ties to Scripture.
- Foster relationships with your listeners (this was based on how people responded to questions about the preacher’s delivery and topics—“It’s like he doesn’t even care about what’s going on in our lives.”)
- Work on your own spiritual life so your sermons will be insightful, deep, and sincere.
I’d love to see any of your comments in response to this session, but I’ll just make a few of my own.
- Neither of the presenters appeared to be very polished or enthusiastic about their material. I was greatly disappointed that they didn’t try to present their material in a creative or compelling way. Considering the effect a first impression can have on communication, I would have thought they would have done something a little more creative.
- The note-taking pages they supplied have been mostly worthless so far. They referred to them a couple of times, but their references to the notes do not coincide with what is actually printed on the notes.
- They have not used any technological delivery systems like video, music, or even PowerPoint to present their points. Now, I think some of that is overused especially the PowerPoint stuff, but come on, some of us are visual learners. Give me something to look at.
- I was somewhat bothered by the fact that Lori was spending so much time on the myths of communication when she never really dug into the details of what the right perspective on communication should be. She simply said that communication basically is anytime two or more human beings are making conclusions of meaning regarding the other person. However, I think there is a difference between communication and communication. I mean, we all know what it feels like when two people are really connecting with each other over an issue. We call that “real communication.” So what’s that all about? I just wish she had given us some perspective on what is communication and what is the deeper level of understanding that most of us assume when we say communication.
- My biggest complaint is that in our evening session, Lori hammered (and I mean hammered repeatedly) the importance of relevant application and how people needed to know not just how it applies to them, but how they can get started in making the changes needed by that application. However, in neither of the sessions today was there made any mention of how we should apply this to our preaching. Now, of course, it’s easy enough for me to draw application out of it, but if they want us to preach messages with relevant application, shouldn’t their communication to us contain some examples of what they mean by that?
I’m always cynical on my first day of a program like this, and I know that there is a good chance I will change my tune by the end of the week. In fact, I’m really excited about a few of the things that are planned for this week, but I’m really hoping that they do a better job of modeling what they are teaching.
My Action Step
At the end of every day of CECL, we are challenged to think about one or two action steps that we can do as “takeaways” from the day’s sessions. Here is one that I came up with for today.
Before December, I will work collaboratively on one sermon at least for its preparation.