The dichotomy between careful preparation and spontaneous delivery in preaching has consumed many a congregation as they pursue authentic revelation.
For some, the discipline and detail of extended preparation offers due recognition to the great responsibility of preaching. Other times it has seemed that the voices promoting the spontaneity of the Spirit’s inspiration have been as loud in omitting to reference those scriptures that promote a Spirit-led order!
The dichotomy is of course patently false. Revelation is not constrained by the moment. Indeed it is arguable that revelation in the moment of delivery is aided by preparation in that it highlights that a departure from what has gone before is being (re)directed by the Holy Spirit.
But perhaps both dynamics are critical convictions for preaching.
Preaching is not complete until proclamation has occurred – in that sense preparation is not preaching on its own. And yet preaching is an enabling component of worship rather than the goal of worship. Within the wider context of the worship service as a whole, it operates as a crucial “hinge” on which the door of revelation swings. Preaching is both a source of revelation and an invitation to response. It is not alone in providing these functions within the context of worship, but it is never (or should never be) separated from the balance of revelation and response which exists across a worship service. This dynamic of revelation and response is what marks authentic worship and, within the wider framework of worship, authentic preaching.
However, the act of preparation is as much a revelatory process as preaching an inspired thought in the moment of proclamation. I love this nugget from Barbara Brown-Taylor which captures this beautifully:
“My own begins with a long sitting spell with an open Bible on my lap, as I read and read and read the text. What I am hunting for is the God in it, God for me and for my congregation at this particular moment in time. I am waiting to be addressed by the text in my own name, to be called out by it so that I look back at my human situation and see it from a new perspective, one that is more like God’s. I am hoping for a moment of revelation…”
Perhaps what we sometimes see is a human response to this seeming tension that operates so as to marginalise the other, out of fear maybe of the consequences of functioning in both? For one, the act of preparation requires a personal intimacy with God that is too raw to take into the public act of preaching. For another, the moment of revelation requires a personal risk taking before God (and others) which is too raw to enact within the public act of preaching. These positions as extremes deny preachers the life-giving immediacy of God at work through the scriptures and in the life of the preacher.
Both convictions sit heavily however and the wrestle to engage God publicly and privately – through preparation and in the moment – become more actively engaged as the insufficiency of living outside this tension is played out in insufficient preaching.
* * *
Brett Jones is pastor to cession|community in the eastern suburbs of Auckland and Assistant National Superintendent (Church Development) for the Wesleyan Methodist Church. In his spare time he is father to 3 and husband to 1.