Time to hear others
‘Start on Monday morning,’ was the advice of my preaching teacher. His instructions were directed towards weekly preaching in a Sunday congregation. His method had sermonic tasks for each of the six days leading up to the next Sunday. Study time needed to be given to those tasks every day of the week, but with planning and determination those sessions were limited and left plenty of time for other things. The preacher although persistent in sermon preparation was not dominated by it. Rhythmic, regular, and methodical, his schema made sure there was a well-thought and carefully prepared script ready for weekly worship. This was the ideal for the conscientious preacher.
‘Start on a Monday morning’ remains my mantra, although I have to confess that the rhythm of a six-day pattern of preparation has often escaped me. A late-in-the-week scrabble to put my thoughts in order has been my usual experience. The ordered and unpressurised routine of my teacher isn’t my usual style. I think back on his neat study and timely routine and wonder why my efforts have felt so chaotic in comparison. Just forty-five minutes on a Thursday to hone what will be written on Friday and only briefly reviewed on Saturday, suggest an altogether less fraught experience than I have often had! I’m tempted to dwell on my own inadequacies in this. Perhaps I need, indeed have always needed, to ‘get my act together.’
But the emphasis on ‘my act’ troubles me. Whatever else preaching is it is not simply and only the conjuring of my thoughts in a lonely study. Preachers must give voice to Scripture, to the faith community in which they speak, and to the wider matters of the world at large. What is said must somehow connect those things in such a way that the call of Christ can be recognised here and now. That is not a task that can be achieved by an individual isolated in her or his homiletic endeavours. It always needs the input of others well beyond the study’s walls. Sermon preparation requires an imaginative engagement with life’s rich diversity.
My preaching teacher was an assiduous keeper of ‘a day book’ – a log in which he kept clippings and notes of encounters, ideas, things read, dramas seen, issues discussed, facts overheard, and matters that perplexed him. Through that book (which became many books!) he was alert to many other ‘voices’ as he gave voice to the Word. In that way the widest of human experiences and challenges found their way into his sermons. The ‘start on Monday morning’ regime was his way of making sure he gave time to consider how thoughts beyond his own might add to his preaching. If I understand synodal preaching aright, that attentiveness to the world and to each other is fundamental. Preaching must always be a walking together – however achieved, and never just the unchecked musings of a solitary absolutist.
Christopher Burkett, Editor