Since graduating seminary, I’ve had the chance to preach ten times. Last summer when Sarah and I led The Macrina Community, I would first write out my sermons in manuscript format. Then I would make an outline based off of the manuscript, and preach from the outline. It was an extremely small, intimate and casual group – so it worked well. Since coming to Asbury, I’ve gone back to manuscript preaching, but I make every effort possible to deliver it in a more conversational tone. However, I would like to move away from the manuscript sometime in the future.
All of this is just to say that I’ve been saving Countdown to Sunday: A Daily Guide For Those Who Dare to Preach, by Chris Erdman, for a time when I was actually preaching on a regular basis. I first met Chris at a friend’s wedding in Fresno, and we had been following each others blogs for awhile. I’ve met and become friends with even more people who come out of University Presbyterian Church in Fresno, where Chris serves as Senior Pastor, and people can’t say enough good things about him. So when he told me about this book, I knew I wanted to give it a read and share it all with you.
Countdown to Sunday is a collection of reflections on the daily life of a preacher and other essays that cover a range of things related to the preaching life. It is a book that isn’t necessarily meant to be read in a specific order, but I wanted to share with you some of my favorite sections, and a few quotes.
While this is not necessarily a “How to…” book, Chris certainly does offer some advice from time to time. In Chapter 5, “Preaching on the Run,” he writes:
Preaching is something lived. It comes out of who we are. Our task is simply to stay close to the text, stay close to who we are as witnesses to Jesus Christ (in all of our unique and God-breathed mystery and strength and necessity), and stay close to our people among whom we’re sent to host this text week in and week out…Now when my students ask, “How long does your sermon preparation take?” I answer, “A lifetime. No less, no more.”
The book moves us through (as you can imagine by the title) the week and each section begins with a very short reflection of what he focuses on for a specific day. A normal preaching week (if ‘normal’ is possible with the life of ministry) looks a little like this:
- Monday: 30-60 minutes of simply spending time with the text. Becoming aware of patterns, words that stand out, etc.
- Tuesday: Chasing words – examining closely the words from the scripture passage and becoming aware of key phrases and themes.
- Wednesday: Reading the agenda of the text(s). Some time spent trying to figure out the mischief this text wants to do among us. How do these words want to form the people of God?
- Thursday: Thursdays are for writing. Writing out the sermon, writing out extended thoughts about the passage…but getting words down on paper.
- Friday/Saturday: These are days to listen…to put aside our thoughts of the passage and listen for where God is directing us – praying that we’ll receive a clearer sense of what the sermon will look like come Sunday.
Another reflection I really enjoyed was on Chapter 15: Preaching and War. He shares some of what it was like to be preaching during Lent, the spring of 2003, as US troops entered Baghdad and began the war that would continue on for years and years. Here is a short excerpt:
We will be unable to shake ourselves free of the gospel that declares that the world is saved – that we are made safe and receive the peace of a just world – through the ministry of the One who disarmed the violent without violence, who died before he would kill, who loved and refused to give in to hate. And we will arm ourselves only with this word of truth…But we, who are conformed to the One in whose name we preach, realize that preaching rightly done, does violence to violence itself. It mercilessly unmasks its arrogance and mercifully challenges our fatalism. Our preaching is war on war itself.
Finally, in Chapter 29, “Fear of the Other: Preaching as Disarmament,” Chris reflects on the moral issue of fear. Certainly in our post-9/11 world, fear is one of the most significant issues for people around the world, specifically Americans. American fear is what allowed Bush to get himself back into the White House. Fear is what causes Pro 8 to be passed in California, banning same-sex marriage. Chris speaks about some of these issues in his chapter and reflects on how the role of the preacher can help fight against this fear. He writes:
All weapons, save one, will find their way, regardless of every good intention, into death’s own arsenal. “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” is the only weapon we preachers can own, and it has nothing in common with conventional weaponry. God came preaching when there was only chaos. The prophets came preaching when political and military powers had made a mess of things. Jesus came preaching armed only with the Word. The apostles came preaching, naked except for their words.
What will we preachers do in a world so full of fear and violence? Will we come preaching, trusting the sacred power of these words become Word? Or will we trust the hard steel of the powers and cowardly arm ourselves with something more “practical”?
Chris’s book covers so many important issues related to preachers: wedding & funeral sermons, preaching during elections, street preaching, preaching in times of crisis and many more topics. Whether you’re a veteran preacher or you’re just graduating seminary and are just now entering into the life of preaching on a weekly basis, this would be a great book to reflect on the art of preaching. I heartily recommend this book on preaching, and hope that you’ll check it out today and pick up your copy. Seriously, pick up your copy today – we know you’ll just put it on the church’s credit card anyway…you can also join the Facebook group, Countdown to Sunday, here.