homiletics [Greek homiletikos > homilos (to assemble, to put many pieces together)] the art and craft of preaching. This is usually taught in a seminary, to the future ordained ministers of the church. The usual result is that the student who comes in with little ability to preach is able to become passable in speaking about gospel truths to a large group of people, in the form of a sermon or homily.
The core of preaching is to draw those truths from Scripture and share them with the assembled people at hand, so they can encounter Jesus through the preacher - by hearing a living voice who interprets the Scriptural world in the here and now, and live in the power of that Word. While this purpose is a great one, it is not achieved just by presentation alone, but by living out a life of faith in Christ among, and in full view of, those same people and their neighbors, colleagues, and families, including the non-Christians, once the sermon is over. It's about being with them and being part of the presence of God with them, in marriage and divorce, baptisms and funerals, youth and old age, loss and love. The whole of an ordained minister's life is meant to be dedicated to being a presentation or living example of the Good News. This can't be done by just a few words in a homily on Sunday. And even a great homily adds up to little if the Holy Spirit Holy Ghost does not empower it in those who hear it. (Without the Spirit, the hearer will not encounter God in the Word that is preached.) The Spirit's work through a preacher, in turn, does not usually take effect outside of much prayer not rote and learning from the Bible thinking, and outside of a real love for those to whom the preacher speaks. This is the core of homiletics, rightly understood. Sermons do not stand by themselves, but are part of the life of the faith community. Far too many ministers forgot that somewhere along the way.
For presenting the gospel truths and their meaning in today's world, there are other ways than preaching sermons. Many people do not respond well at all to listening to someone speak to them for 15 to 30 minutes on some matter. It's a problem for schools, training seminars, events, and public meetings, not just church.
What's the Matter With Sermons?
So, what's the problem with sermons?
Part of the problem is in the method itself. Most truths are better conveyed when those present can take part by touching, reading, speaking, seeing and creating images, and singing or hearing in music those truths, so that they may even discover some of this for themselves, being led to and shown rather than just being told. Or for another example: in today's world, it's possible for the gathered to go to their mobile phones or laptop computers to check what the speaker's saying with its supposed Scriptural sources, or to discover that the story used in the sermon is actually an 'urban legend'. Shouldn't they be able to write comments when reading a posted draft of the sermon on-line before it's preached? Or have a way to give immediate feedback? A back-and-forth exchange with the preacher? Or ask questions? In some ways, effective preaching is the art of leading others into the process of learning be open to it what the New Testament is saying.
Part of the problem with homiletics is today's people. Unless they arrive already interested, most of them shut their minds off after a few minutes, deciding that what they're hearing does not matter or is the same old blah blah blah. It's a way of passing quick judgement on someone, a reflex action in people who think they have no time or mental energy to 'waste'. But no one can listen, learn, grow or experience anything when they're in a shut-down mode. (Really, many of us don't even know how to listen anymore, much less bother to actually do it.) There's no personal growth or time savings when you're just sitting there numb. Then, there are those who assume from the start that they already know more than the speaker, or that they've so 'freed' themselves from stale ideas that they can safely ignore anyone who speaks of such stuff. Thus, they ignore any true testimony or practical wisdom which comes from the mouth of the 'foolish' preacher.
Part of the homiletic problem is with the presenter. Very few have real skills and gifts for effective preaching or speaking. To be honest, many preachers don't really believe much of what they're saying, it's just a part of their job. This is made worse by reliance on re-run sermons, and sermons that are mostly stolen from other preachers or bloggers or from web sites (like this one). Some of these are classic old sermons which were effective in their day, or were originally from a really good minister who was more than just a 'preacher' to those who heard the sermon. Many ordained clergy see themselves as part of the class of tell-ers, who know the faith better than the ones they're sermonizing to. How will their sermons ever connect to those who they think have so much less religious knowledge or understanding? Or those whom they aren't around long enough to understand? Worst of all, how can they be selfless enough to rely on the Spirit trust God to make it all work, when they don't really live in an active relationship prayer, QT with that Spirit, through devotions, Bible study learning, spiritual disciplines retreats, and a lot of listening and thinking and acting on it?
A Short Homily on Preaching
Most seminaries and Bible schools are only beginning to get at the problems of homiletic method, don't really understand today's people, and do a poor job of guiding their future ministers into a life that is not just vaguely spiritual, but specifically Christlike. (They're taught the importance of belief in the head, but their own faith is not well-nurtured.) Even worse, some budding young preachers are paper-trained into a mindset for writing homilies to preach about the importance of sermons. As long as this foundation remains so soft, the sermon, in whatever form, will keep dying, and no class in homiletics or the 'art' (or even science) of preaching will save it.
You can also check the dictionary for homiletics and to preach. But church leaders need to redefine preaching and homiletics.
Not to be mistaken for homieletics, preaching to your neighborhood supporters and friends. Homieletics is a cousin word to the phrase 'preaching to the choir', and is done just as loudly but a bit more carefully.
Three On Sermons
"There will be a meeting of the Board up here in front immediately after the service," the pastor announced.
So when the service ended, the Church Board gathered for their meeting. But among them was a stranger, a visitor who'd never been in their church before. The pastor asked him, "Don't you know that this is a meeting of the Board?"
"Yeah," said the visitor. "After today's sermon, I reckon I'm as bored as anyone else here."
A preacher's little son asked, "Daddy, every Sunday before you start preaching, you get up there and bow your head. What are you doing?"
The father explained, "I'm asking God to give me a good sermon."
The son asked, "Then why don't he?"
After the church service a little boy told the pastor, "When I grow up, I'm going to give you some money."
"Well, thank you," the pastor replied, "but why?"
The boy said, "Because my daddy says you're the poorest preacher we've ever had."
What Is a Pulpit?
Pulpit : a podium or lectern, used inside a church sanctuary. Among those who love using really ancient Latin or Greek words, you might hear it referred to as an ambo. It is often elevated above the floor of the altar area. In older churches, it often has solid sides, like a rather small cubicle. Pulpits serve a practical purpose as a stand for holding notes and wired microphones. It is a place to which all eyes can be drawn and all attention can be focused. That's why podiums abound in auditoriums, classrooms, and legislative halls. That's good and even necessary, to a point. Yet the pulpit also serves a purpose that's not so good: it sets the speaker apart from the audience. Such a thing is highly problematic in Christian churches today, because one of the things that drives people away from the church is the feeling that ministers are treated as an 'authority' class that merits our special attention and focus, especially when they preach sermons. It is, of course, their message which very much warrants such attention. But that message needs no help from a pulpit, podium, or lectern. All it needs is any person who thoughtfully and honestly shares it, in the midst of the gathered people. The Spirit will work adaptable with that. Christianity is about Jesus Christ, a God who went out to be among us where we are incarnation. A pulpit says the opposite, just by being there.
In the phrase "the pulpit", the word is a substitute word for the job or position or assignment of being a preacher at a specific place or congregation. (A phrase like it is "the pastorate".) This is because ministers typically stand behind a pulpit when preaching. Note how this emphasizes preaching over the other duties of the clergy. There is much more to being a commissioned or ordained minister than giving a sermon, even within the worship service like, sacraments. Describing the job as "the pulpit" sets up a skewed mental image of what he or she is being hired to do. It's not a term to totally avoid, if it's kept in the context of the other descriptives of the job, because preaching usually is an important part of the task. But as an employment description for a job, it is far too narrow and sets up the wrong expectations.