The Naked Preacher: Action Research and a Practice of Preaching by Jason C Boyd
It is not often that we recommend academic books on these pages, partly because of the expense. However, one that relates so directly to preaching shouldn’t be missed. The book stems from Jason Boyd’s PhD research, hence its place in SCM’s research stable. His key ideas and processes, however, will be of value to anyone who preaches regularly to the same congregation.
The background is a Congregational church where the Church Meeting is a consultative as well as decision making body. As the minister and preacher, Boyd posed the question ‘what works and what does not work?’. The aim was to improve his own practice of preaching.
In brief, after-church coffee time became a purposeful conversation, organised around tables covered in paper tablecloths. On each cloth were written key questions such as: ‘what happened to you as you listened to the sermon today?’, with some supporting questions like ‘What kept your attention?/What lost your attention?’; ‘What happened in your life this past week … and how did it affect the way you heard the sermon?’; ‘Do you think or feel that the sermon will change how you live your life this week?’ Conversation groups recorded their responses to the questions on the paper table cloth.
I don’t have space here to rehearse Boyd’s research, but here are some key findings for preachers:
- The congregation felt better engaged when the preacher used notes – speaking without notes required a greater effort to remember the sermon, and the effect was that the preacher looked at the back wall rather than at the hearers.
- Recognising our own positionality as preachers is important – why do we read our text the way we do?
- Conversing with the congregation about our preaching brings issues into focus – for example, who is silenced or marginalised by the preacher’s reading?
There is much more to this book than I have reported, of course. But why might a preacher spend time with it? Chapters 3-7 relate directly to the practice of preaching. Chapter 3 describes in detail the conversational approach outlined above. Chapter 4 describes how using Action Research theologically led the writer to new insights into a particular passage of Scripture. Chapter 5 considers how to work with the congregation. In chapter 6 Boyd focuses on power relationships between preacher and congregation and chapter 7 gathers up insights that might lead to further reflection.
I would suggest the book is best read and used by preaching teams or by the main preacher in a church. The research is practical, and offers the possibility of continuous development within the preaching/hearing life of the church. A worthwhile investment for preachers.
For those engaged in homiletics study or teaching the whole of the book is of interest. The first two chapters, unmentioned so far, describe Action Research (AR) and Action Research as a way of doing Theology (ART). From a methodological perspective it offers a sound investment.
Save 10% on the RRP when you order this book from chbookshop.co.uk. Add the voucher code PREACHER at the checkout to receive the discount:
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