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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On the "Preaching Better Sermons" webinar by

I happened upon a webinar on “Preaching Better Sermons” hosted by a website called I had never heard of the website, and only discovered the webinar because it was trending on Twitter about the time it launched this morning.

The 4-hour webcast was a series of pre-recorded interviews of relatively famous pastor/authors at their locations or via Skype. Between each interview was an advertisement testimonial for the service.

Overall I was very pleased and impressed by the interviews. The final question of each was a shameless plug for the interviewee’s latest book, but that is to be expected in a free webinar with such big names as Mark Driscoll, Andy Stanley, and Dave Ramsey.

Here are some takeaways from the four-hour webcast:

First, the speakers were largely representative of the Emerging Baptist Church[1] movement. The list of speakers was Andy Stanley, Steven Furtick, Crawford Loritts, Nancy Duarte, Darrin Patrick, Louie Giglio, Pete Wilson, Ed Stetzer, Mark Driscoll, Donald Miller, Jon Acuff, Mark Batterson, Dave Ramsey, and Brad Lomenick. I had never heard of several of the speakers, and the ones with whom I was familiar didn’t have the best reputation in my mind as preachers. The one woman interviewed was not included for preaching, but rather as a “communication expert.” I am not implying that the agenda is anti-women-in-ministry, but the inclusion of no females in preaching ministries (and only one non-white male who is) speaks volumes for the intended audience of this webinar. In reality, I probably fall smack-dab in the middle of their target demographic, and that hurts a little.

Secondly, there was a clear dividing line between those interviewees who actually understand preaching and those who understand public speaking. Both perspectives were helpful and informative to the other. Whereas Stanley, Loritts, Patrick, and Giglio used the pastoral nature of preaching as their starting point, Stetzer, Acuff, and Ramsey focused on techniques and styles more germane to non-kerygmatic public address. There are insights to be gleaned from both, yet in a webinar dedicated to preaching better sermons the mixture of the two camps felt as though there was a stuttering, halting theme to the day.
Thirdly, there was a certain “meta” sense about the interviews that I certainly enjoyed. This was not a webinar about homiletics or even the principles of oratory. This was a rubber-meets-the-road series of interviews that always began with “how do you prepare every week?” That was certainly appreciated, and was something I liked hearing and relating to. The ideas presented in the interviews were “big picture,” that is, they were ideas related to preaching as a story, to preaching as an authentic expression of faith, to being inauthentic without the reality of Jesus’ life. These themes can indeed be mixed and interchanged depending on the personality of the person preaching, and to that end I think preachers of every stripe could learn something from the webinar.

Finally, I took away from the webcast that my people (whoever that is) were somehow left out. The interviewees all come from what we used to call “seeker” churches, built on evangelistic preaching and the assumption that non-churched people will be present in every service. Related to this model is the very essence of the preaching style and substance of these men, which is in turn related to the worship style of the churches they represent. I noticed that none of these preachers followed the Lectionary or gave a not to the Church Year, none of them seemed concerned with liturgy (beyond the de-facto liturgy of their ever-morphing worship), and only one (that I noticed) seemed concerned with extra-worship discipleship. Yes, I know, this was a webinar on preaching better sermons, not discipleship; but the tone of the interviews made it sound as though the sermon was the one-and-done weekly attempt to evangelize and disciple the non-believer and believer alike. I know that’s not true at many of the churches represented in the webinar, but it felt that way.
            Where is a place in all of this for a liturgically aware Baptist? Do the points made in the webinar only apply to those preachers in seeker-style churches? I’d hope not. Too much of what I heard today made me proud to be a preacher for that to be true. I only wish something other than the stereotype had been in play, both ecclesiastically and demographically.

If you can get access to the webinar, watch it. It made me want to preach better sermons, and just might have helped me to do so.

[1] There is probably a better term for this, I just don’t know it. What I mean by it is the trend among larger, multi-site congregations with Baptist (or at least congregational) church polity and evangelical protestant theology. They are characterized by their worship style, as well, as demonstrated by many of the speakers’ having “worship teams” and other support staff that organize and coordinate complex audio/visual experiences to accompany the sermon. 

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