Of Dogs, Ponies and Preachers

I heard someone the other day talk about a sermon they heard from a famous ’emergent’ preacher who used a goat as a prop.

Liturgical pastors and priests are often hideous preachers. Hideous and boring. I’ve always attempted to give decent sermons. Still, in many ways preaching is a lost art. Very few can hold the attention of the masses. Fewer still can compete with the world of glossy images and Giant Screen movieplexes.

What do you want in a sermon? Is it inspiration, knowledge, challenge? And how does the preacher get where you want him to go? Stories, dogs and ponies, martial arts? Please advise!

PS St. John Chrysostom was known as the ‘golden tongue’ for his Spirit-filled preaching.

19 thoughts on “Of Dogs, Ponies and Preachers

  1. I want what Jesus offered. Sometimes he used props, stories and rebuke but when all was said and done they were “amazed at his teacing, because he taught him as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mk. 1.22) Sure I want someone skilled in keeping my attention, stimulating my intellect,…but more than that I want a word from God.

    We can get the meanings of the greek words on line anyday (the scribes) but when the community storyteller stands up I want to hear something that I can’t hear on the radio or TV, God’s word for the people of God gathered in that place, in that city, on that day…”I have a dream!”

  2. I don’t expect every minister to have a gift of the gab, and I don’t expect miracles, but the following are appreciated:

    1. Clear speech

    2. A clear message. If you’re not a reasonably organized impromptu speaker, please use notes. I’d rather hear a sermon read than try to follow wild free-association.

    3. A life that at least attempts to reflect what you’re talking about.

    I’ve heard all kinds of speakers from church. My favourite priest wasn’t much of a preacher, but he walked the talk and he was a great example.

  3. I really don’t think I can state it any better than Theophilus. But also MCM’s statement “A life that at least attempts to reflect what you’re talking about.” is very important to me. I am blessed that Fr. Mike, my priest, is an extremely gifted speaker. But the gifts and callings of God are without repentance. When I first came to St. Sabina, I wanted to know how this man behaved outside of the pulpit. To my relief and delight, I discovered him to be one of the most humble and approachable people I had ever met. I watched how he spoke to his office staff, maintenance people, etc… the fact that they have been with him forever is a testimony to how well he treats them.
    And honestly, that is why I really don’t watch or listen to tv and radio preachers. I don’t want to know how gifted you are at preaching nearly as much as I want to know how you treat your wife and talk to your kids.

  4. Don’t sell yourself short there, Fr. Neo. You give more than decent sermons.

    What I like in a sermon–and aren’t sermons an innovation in the liturgy?–is a little bit of historical background, a little exposition and some challenge. You are in a place where you have the authority of the historical church behind you, regardless of what’s happening today, and preaching such is always relevant, goats or no. It’s not just you making up the sermon, these aren’t just Fr. Neo’s ideas, but the Church’s teachings.

    I think the truth is, you can’t compete with the world. Nor should you have to or try to. The culture is always going to be one step ahead as to what media and music they favor. I’m not sure what dogs and ponies have to do with the simple (ha!) truths of love, mercy, forgiveness, self-denial and the rest.

    The best ones are short (i.e. easier to remember) and like Angevoix pointed out, best lived out or at least honest with us that you struggle too.

    Anything you read from the internet gets negative points, since you asked. 🙂 Choose instead a Holy Father or tell us about a saint.

    And lay off the lame jokes! (putting that one in for you know who.)

  5. Good stuff folks.

    What does a ‘word from God’ look like?

    Do ‘lives of the saints’ inspire or frustrate?

  6. A word from God what does it look like…Like I said…”I have a dream”

    When God’s story from the past, God’s working in the storyteller’s life and the needs of the group intersect. When the Spirit of God decides to annoint a moment.

    It’s not scribal it’s prophetic. It’s felt in the bones and the soul.

  7. My pastor is probably the greatest preacher that I’ve ever heard (of course, I haven’t heard you, Fr. Neo).

    She lives the sermon first, as Madam Madcap suggested.

    She’s inspirational and challenging to us.

    She reminds of us of all the great work we’re doing and encourages to continue on. This is one of my favorite habits that she has. She’ll be making a point and then say, “Like when Gus stopped to help that homeless man get healthcare, or when Angie told her teacher…” In other words, she often uses real life examples of what we’re actually doing day to day, and I think that’s a neat trick.

    Of course, one has to know their congregation to do that kind of thing, which is another reason I like her sermons.

    She’s actually going to be included in a book on Great Women Pastors or some similar title, that’s due to be published soon. I’d be glad to hook anyone up with one if you want…

    Sorry for the shameless commercial content, FN.

  8. God-lover,

    Story teller and prophet. That’s a tall order. What do you do to keep in tune to the ‘divine freqency’ that is required for such a task?

  9. Theophilus is on target, Neo. The pressure is off. Pray, prepare, get spiritual back-up and support, stand in the word, open your heart to passion, and then open your mouth and speak. The spirit blows where it may, but in preparing this way, you are invoking Him. You are creating a wind tunnel for the spirit to enter the room and blow tongues of fire across the assembled saints, some of whom will receive the Holy Spirit in great force and power. But the moment, the moment will be noted by nearly all others as “something is happening”, something on the verge of excitement and truth. And when that happens, you should be aware of it. You should wonder where the aliveness of the Holy Spirit came from and where it went as it blows right through you.

    Is that how you experience it?

  10. WOW!!!!! I can’t speak for anyone else, but that is how I experience it Morpheus. But I couldn’t have put it nearly as well as you did!

  11. I’m not so sure the question is “How?” but “Who?” I’m not so sure the storyteller is capable of keeping in contact with the frequency…sure we can cooperate with the Spirit and His work in our life…but when all is said and done…preaching, like everthing else is a gift and act of grace. Perhaps John the Baptist said it best, “He must increase, and we must decrease.”

  12. Yes, John Chrysostom was an effective speaker; so was Adolf Hitler.
    the moral: Passion does not necessarily make for truth. (if you’ve not guessed, I’m not a huge Chrysostom fan)

  13. Hitler was blowing with the force of hell: concentrated fierce lies drenched with hate. Pulpit success isn’t about passion without the Holy Spirit. That’s stage-craft. You can also get a lot of charisma from hate, anger and sexual tension, as Hitler and others have proved. Open yourself to passion in the spirit, if you have the gift, and you get something laudable, noble, high and pure. No comparison. Or, do you consider evocation of the spirit to be flashy and insubstantial. I’m not sure what point you are trying to make, quixie.

  14. Preaching is a gift. And the gifts and the callings of God are without repentance, but the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit is not. We have way too many preachers, psalmist, whatever out here who are relying on their “gift” when sadly the Holy Spirit has long since left the building. It is imperative that the preacher not only stay in contact with the frequency, but also allow himself/herself to be carried along by him. Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit is a vital part of effective ministry.
    I have witnessed the sad effects of people opperating in their giftedness without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Not a pretty sight. Especially when the one opperating in their gift seems to be the only one who hasn’t noticed.

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