I'm not a preacher nor the son of a preacher, but I am a seminary graduate. I've taken a few preaching classes and sat through my share of sermons. Mary Hulst's A Little Handbook for Preachers: Ten Practical Ways to a Better Sermon by Sunday is great for preachers, but people in the pew will benefit as well. I know I can use some help to be a better listener to sermons.
Hulst's Little Handbook is not as simplistic and "check-list-y" as it sounds. The cover makes it look like she's offering quick fixes to touch up a sermon before delivery. But Hulst gets to the heart of sermon content and preparation. She makes a crucial distinction between "Christian speeches" and sermons. I have certainly heard a few Christian speeches on Sundays. She describes a Christian speech as "a spoken address on a particular topic that may or may not refer to Scripture." By contrast, "a sermon is an oral event in which the speaker humbles him- or herself before the grand narrative of Scripture and, after seeking to understand what God is up to in a particular passage, invites the hearers to know God more." Rather than using Scripture to prove our point, preachers should "read the text to hear what God has to say." Amen to that.
In that same vein, Hulst draws a distinction between Bible class and the sermon. "The difference between a Bible class and a sermon is that while a Bible class can impact what we know, a sermon needs to also impact how we live." The art of preaching is to "create in our hearers a deeper desire to know and love God more." To meet that goal, sermons should be "grace-full," talking less about "this is what you need to do" and more about "this is what we get to do" because of what God has done. We relate to our listeners by being compelling, contextual, relevant, and embodied. We should draw on the lives of our listeners, and not so much on our own lives, for illustrations of the message.
A Little Handbook is highly practical, and, properly applied, will give a preacher much to think about when preparing a sermon. For my part, sitting in the pew, Hulst gives me much to think about, not in a critical way but in a constructive way. I won't be preaching any time soon, but I will show more appreciation to my pastor and be sure to give him positive feedback.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!
2016 Reading Challenge: A book about preaching