Learn in the doing
So often fellow preachers have told me that they have found their formal training in preaching less than adequate when it comes to the relentless round of regularly preaching. Yes, they appreciate the principles they were taught, but the actual repeated practice of those principles hasn’t been quite enough to see them through. Something more has been needed. Like so many skills, there is a discernible gap between being able to do something and being able to do something with panache (for want of a better word). That ‘gap’ is the theme of this issue.
There is something about the practice of preaching that goes beyond what is straightforwardly taught. Something that preachers recognise in that practice and know they must cultivate yet find hard to describe and analysis. That ‘something’ I would name as reflective practice – an attitude to the ‘doing’ of it that determinedly questions itself and is intentionally thoughtful in analysing how that practice might be developed and improved. In this way, being a preacher is being a continuous learner. As Catherine Williams suggests, preaching changes the preacher not just the congregation. A sermon is never a one-way street in the sense of only being directed to hearers.
Indeed, part of the credibility, Matt Allen so rightly directs us to consider, originates in the preacher’s obvious commitment to learning in this preaching event. Preaching must never be simply telling other people what to do. That caricature fails appallingly in describing what preaching at its best can achieve. Like the good actor, the good preacher strives to ‘perform’ in a way that is authentic and engaging so as to be true – and to be clearly such to all those participating.
Rob Esdaile points us to the fact that preaching is at its heart only for the moment. This might be a troubling thought. Earlier ages appear to have delighted in books of sermons, suggestive of homilies as permanent gems that transcend time in their profundity. To consider otherwise might be seen as a capitulation to the transience of the age. Far from it, asserting ‘the here and now’ of the preaching event is to emphasise its very impactfulness and its potential power to change hearts and minds now. That generally sermons are ‘of the moment’ only serves to make plain their immediacy and power – at least in promise if not always in reality.
Search the following pages for examples of such impactfulness, personal credibility, and change indicated within preachers themselves. There is much of others’ practice worth careful pondering – whether it be in reflection on experience as well as scripture; unlikely connections, well made; commonplace thoughts pressed to new depths or metaphors engagingly extended; or simply heartfelt ideas expressed so as to be readily hearable. Here are practitioners who are evidently learners.
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