Dean’s Letter: Preaching the Word

Hello St. Paul’s,

Last Sunday we welcomed a distinguished guest preacher, the Rev. Dr. Mark Andrew Jefferson. Mark teaches preaching at Virginia Theological Seminary and is known across the world as an outstanding preacher. We were not disappointed on Sunday! He preached two entirely different sermons at 8:00 and 10:30 – you can find recordings of both online – and at the forum he spoke about God’s call to ALL Christians to preach the Gospel and share the good news of Christ. On Monday he led a clergy day for the clergy of our diocese, seeking to empower, refresh, and encourage us as preachers.

If you heard him preach you know that he is an energizing and exhilarating preacher. Some members of the congregation were actually moved to spontaneously say “Amen!” at various points – something you don’t often hear in an Episcopal Church. And he received an enthusiastic round of applause after his 10:30 sermon; again, something that doesn’t happen often in our denomination.

During Monday’s clergy day, Mark spoke about the framing of a sermon, how he first identifies the claim a Scripture passage has made on him and then forms a focus statement, encapsulating what the sermon will hopefully mean for the congregation; finally he considers the function that the sermon will serve: what change will it effect? Something I’ve heard expressed as the “so what” of a sermon.

He recommended that we keep note of the claim, focus, and function of each sermon we compose, so that over time we can look back and perceive a theological arc.

Mark spoke of monitoring our growth as preachers. As you know, we have a three year lectionary cycle in the Episcopal Church, which means that I, after 25 years of ordained ministry, have potentially had eight opportunities to preach on those four Scripture passages. If I were to note each time what people wanted more of in the sermon, where they expected it to go vs where it went, I could be more intentional about growing in my preaching, referring back to those notes each time the same readings come round.

It was a stimulating day, and Richard and I will be having conversations about how to encourage each other in our preaching and how to be more intentional and strategic about the big picture over seasons and years.

An element in everything Mark said was the role of the congregation in supporting and improving our preaching. You can have a significant effect on our preaching, if you choose to be an active listener and respondent to our sermons. It’s wonderful to hear “Lovely sermon” after a service, but it’s even better to hear, “This is what I took away from your sermon,” or “This is where I disagreed with you, or “Why didn’t you go further with that point?” Even better, send us a quick email with some specific thoughts, so that we can file it and return to it later. I hope to create a simple sermon listening guide that you can use to focus your questions and comments, and perhaps we will offer regular opportunities to discuss the sermon in a small group setting. In the meantime, I invite you to ask these questions of yourself and others as you listen to a sermon and afterwards:

What did the sermon say/mean to me today, in one sentence?

What was the most significant word or phrase I heard?

What would I tell someone about this sermon if they hadn’t heard it?

What was I hoping for that I didn’t hear?

If you feel moved to share the answers with the preacher of the day, you will be helping us to be better preachers and we will be very grateful. And, who knows, maybe you will discover a call to be a preacher yourself, because preaching isn’t restricted to people who wear clerical collars.

See you on Sunday!

Your sister in Christ,

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