Mike Cope's blog

Saturday, April 16, 2005

I USED TO THINK of preaching as science. Take the text into the lab, dissect it, and carve it into three points and an application. Above all, make points. NOW I THINK of preaching more as art. The goal isn't to make points but to arrive at a point (destination). The message, like Christian discipleship itself, is a journey -- informed by the text, shaped by the text. Instead of seeing myself as the one who explains the Bible to everyone, I see myself as a leader in the journey who escorts people into the messy, marvelous, unbelievable, life-altering world of scripture. In some ways, it's harder. (The exegetical and hermeneutical work still has to be done on the front end!) But it seems to correspond more to scripture, for the Bible doesn't often come in nifty little sections of points. It immerses us into a world shaped by the work of God in human lives. It is Jesus-formed. The preaching that reaches deep inside me and rattles my bones is not usually very easy to outline--though that certainly doesn't mean it isn't carefully crafted. Often, it has seemed to me, the other kind of preaching tends to turn people into Bible Wonks who study scripture a lot but don't catch the overarching themes of scripture. In their search for "answers," they wind up with a reduced world. So preaching is an art. There is a place to launch the journey, there are turns and twists, there are mountains and valleys, and there is a destination. (In old classical homiletic theory that's the "thesis" or the "focus.") Disclaimer: this isn't the only way to view preaching. It's where I am on my understanding. It's more narrative/story than encyclopedia, more poetry than prose, more art than science. Take this with a grain of salt. I think I know more about good guacamole and about how to throw a good two-seam fastball than about good preaching.


  • Your preaching makes points and arrives at a point. But the points that are made are not stand alone points but rather serve as road signs along the way - pointing us to the ultimate point (destination). I liken it to taking a road trip from Abilene to Dallas in a car. It is nice to see those "Dallas 120 miles" signs along the way - telling us that we are still on the right road and that the destination is coming. Sometimes it can get downright depressing on the journey (sitting through a sermon) but the roadsigns help us stay the course. The problem I see is that for many (myself sometimes) we focus more on the points and less on the point. Sometimes we (preachers) need to let our passengers wonder and wait and worry about where this journey is going without reasurring them ever few minutes with stand alone points that attempt to minimize the "messy" of scripture.

    Thanks for the post brother. I'll let you escort me on the journey anytime.

    In fact, I'm praying that God will let you be my guide for the next 10 years!

    By Blogger Joel Quile, at 4/16/2005 08:52:00 AM  

  • Yes, yes! Preaching is an art.

    I have taken the same view of worship planning and worship for many years. (...and of preaching when I was preaching.) It's a journey, it's a story.

    At least, that's where I am in my journey right now. As you acknowledge about preaching, it's just one way among many of looking at worship.

    About this kind of preaching (or worship)... it's like friends taking a walk with the Holy Spirit as the lead conversation partner. It's like Jesus and his followers listening to his stories as they walked along the road or sat on a hill. It's like the disciples on Emmaus Road.

    And it's not just where you end up. It's how you've changed and who you've become on the journey. You may even end up at the same place as you started, but hopefully you are forever different, even in how you view that place. In the best of circumstances, the old place has become new.

    That's my hope for worship, and I imagine is your hope for preaching.

    Thanks for your post.

    (By the way, my son is enjoying your class at ACU. I was hoping he would have you and Randy as teachers. When I told him earlier that the Terry S. discussion was a last minute decision, he was blown away by the depth of the questions Randy asked to frame the discussion. I told him you both had probably put in a great deal of thought ahead of the "last five minute" decision to discuss. But he's still impressed.)

    Owen Burgess

    By Blogger Owen B., at 4/16/2005 10:05:00 AM  

  • My father is a talented pulpit minister on the verge of retirement. I'm a young guy in my first year of preaching (we preach at similarly-sized churches in Kansas). His style is 3-point and mine is more organic. I couldn't preach a 3-point sermon at gunpoint; he couldn't preach without one. We give each other a hard time about our sermons (mine are "structure-less", his are in a straight-jacket)...but praise God that scripture is big enough to accomodate both and that he's so creative that he's made people that respond to both.

    By Blogger Neal W., at 4/16/2005 10:40:00 AM  

  • An excellent place to hone the craft of preaching is the Sermon Seminar each year at Rochester College. This year is THE year to attend because the keynote will be the guy who kicked off the revolution in homiletics that you're talking about: Fred Craddock.

    For more information, go the Sermon Seminar website. It's not too late to register and there aren't that many opportunities these days to hear Fred Craddock in person.


    By Blogger Jared Cramer, at 4/16/2005 10:55:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    What a great description of effective preaching in the 21st century. One of the things I admire about your preaching is your originality. "Out of the overflow of Mike Cope's heart, the mouth speaks." It is sad that so many preachers today are not doing the work you describe and preaching the latest fad series. I would say to all young preachers, you don't have to "be like Mike." Prepare like Mike, however, preach like yourself.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 4/16/2005 11:22:00 AM  

  • Mike, I'm having a hard time understanding what you are saying. Would you reframe that and begin it by saying, "Today we begin 40 days of improving your preaching style..."


    By Blogger JD, at 4/16/2005 12:54:00 PM  

  • I don't care for guacamole, but I would welcome the chance to sit at your feet and learn the fine art of preaching...and throwing the two-seamer.

    By Blogger Thurman8er, at 4/16/2005 03:38:00 PM  

  • I agree wholeheartedly: Good preaching is art.

    But, Mike, how will churches and "preachers" respond to the growing population of Americans who are alienated by one-sided, non-participatory information-giving as the primary source of the word? From where I sit, I see a Church culture that cares less and less about preaching, but is beginning to look at authentic community as its lifeblood. If the church culture seems to be moving this direction, the postmodern, secular culture has been there for several years.

    I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade here, but I think churches will need to consider some things if they wish to be relevant to a culture that is increasingly skeptical of authority and absolute truth. I could be wrong, but that's how I see it.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 4/16/2005 03:50:00 PM  

  • You are a poet and an artist, my friend--and good with the green stuff too (a little too hot for my taste, but still very good). Stay organic, please. Judy Thomas

    By Blogger judy thomas, at 4/16/2005 04:47:00 PM  

  • You are a poet and an artist, my friend--and good with the green stuff too (a little too hot for my taste, but still very good). Stay organic, please. Judy Thomas

    By Blogger judy thomas, at 4/16/2005 04:47:00 PM  

  • Mike the idea of preaching as an art has been one I have been working through for a while. How it plays out in the presentation varies. In my setting it changes from week to week. One of the forms for leading this journey has included initiating some discussion. Since this is a small church we can have the whole church talk, but I have often thought that in a bigger church it would translate into breaking into small groups and discussing the idea as part of the sermon. Discussion is a big part of learning.

    By Blogger Eric, at 4/16/2005 06:24:00 PM  

  • I agree with your assessment of preaching Mike. In fact, I blogged about this very thing comparing my preaching with my spinning instructor, Margo.

    By Blogger jch, at 4/17/2005 04:17:00 AM  

  • Fine post, Mike. I wrote about it at my blog. Peace.

    By Blogger Milton Stanley, at 4/18/2005 07:50:00 AM  

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