Reading the Scriptures in the Vernacular

By Dr. Leonard Sweet

Christianity’s greatest preaching, its best preachers, are yet to come. My mission is to help you become one of them.

Hence I have written one or two sermons a week, every week, ever since I was in my 20s. These were first published briefly in Pulpit Resources. Then I launched on a long-term commitment to Homiletics, a lecture-based quarterly journal which became during my ten-year tenure the premier preaching resource in North America. When there was resistance to the use of electronic media on the part of the publishers, even to the point of insisting that I submit paper print-outs by post or by hand rather than use email, I started my own first open-source preaching resource (the only one) on the Web, Wikiletics (short for “Wiki-homiletics”).

preach the story
Photo Credit: Preachthestory.com

Each week I would post on the Wikiletics site free downloadable lectionary-based sermons that encouraged the death of pulpit-centric preaching as well as links to images and videos. This move from performative preaching to participative preaching extended all the way to the ability to actually change the sermon itself posted on the web. Preachers were encouraged to make the sermon better, to add or subtract animations (you “illustrate” points, you “animate” narratives and experiences). What you learned from preaching the sermon that could be of help to other colleagues in the preaching craft was a feature of the site.

The interactive “wiki” feature of the site, its distinguishing component, also proved its downfall. I suddenly began to get phone calls from preachers, some angry, some alarmed, “So you’re now in the porn business, Sweet?” Porn sites started embedding links throughout the site and new ones would pop up as soon as we got rid of the old ones. The costs of conducting 24-7 porn patrols became prohibitive. So I shut down the site.

Two of the most creative people in the church today, Thom and Joani Schultz, asked me to help them start up a preaching resource for Group Publishing. For the next six years, I was the chief contributor to PreachingPlus, laboring every week with Cary Dunlap and other creatives to make this a dynamic and cutting edge resource for the church. I enjoyed immensely the “innovation factory” that is the hallmark of the “Group” brand, and not only did they publish the first edition of my “AquaChurch” book; they invested in a series of 6-minute teaching videos, one for each chapter, that were years ahead in chronology and content, but not technology, of Rob Bell’s 10 minute “Nooma” DVD series.

For almost ten years, I wrote weekly sermons and provided illustrative content for sermons.com. As I was thinking about whether to continue my association with sermons.com, it suddenly hit me that in 2015, I would cross a personal threshold: 1500 published sermons. This number is inconsequential in God’s scheme of things, and nothing compared to other preachers from The Cloud like Charles Haddon Spurgeon, whose sermonic output amount to over 3600 sermons and who was used to preaching ten sermons a week. But this personal milestone inspired me to do a couple of things, all of which came to a head in 2015.

First, I published a preaching text for Zondervan/HarperCollins on how to move homiletics into more interactive modes of revealing truth. I once heard that in Old-Slavic “to reveal” is translated as “to blood out.” For this and other biblical and theological reasons, I titled this book Giving Blood: A Fresh Paradigm for Preaching.

Len's living room
Photo Credit: GFES via Flickr

Second, I agreed to mentor a one-time only cohort of doctoral students in “New Paradigms of Preaching.” This group of D.Min students (the Preaching as Story DMin cohort) started in the fall of 2015, and I am enormously excited about our homiletic journey the next three years.

Third, I established my own online preaching resource for pastors and students, www.preachthestory.com, which would teach a new way of sermon construction that spoke the language of the culture and that would reintroduce the church to the original way the Bible was intended to be read. The site encourages pastors to build sermons by identifying the key metaphors, doing an “image exegesis,” and then building sermons that are experiential, participatory, image-rich, and connective-relational (EPIC).

The site provides free material, such as “The Open Table” (Christian book reviews) by Teri Hyrkas and “Sound Theology” (musical selections and a story) by GFU DMin graduate Colleen Butcher. “Sweet Spots” are free “stories and images” from some of my own material. And a weekly “pastoral prayer” is free for all those who access the site.

A subscription membership to the site (only $9 per month) allows access to two types of sermons each week (each with a metaphorical image). The “Master Sermon” provides a creative take on the traditional lectionary. The other is a “story sermon” along with a brand new “story lectionary” and weekly “image exegesis” which shows how to extract the metaphors from the scripture, connects those metaphors with other scriptural metaphors, and then builds an interactive (EPIC) story sermon in a different style than the master sermon.

Len's looking out
Photo Credit: GFES via Flickr

Additionally, the site offers videos on how to connect ordinary household artifacts with metaphors in scripture (Sweet Nothings) and some of my best stories and images from my own notes (The Commons). Weekly Preaching Tips offer ways to build and give these types of EPIC sermons.

Even if you haven’t yet read the book, Giving Blood, I hope that many will find www.preachthestory.com a resource that will transfigure your preaching style, and allow you to reach the people in your congregations and in your communities in more creative and meaningful ways than ever before. All three of these resources help preachers learn how to communicate in the native tongue of a 21st century world.

Someone boasted to me not too long ago that he had never been to church and never heard a “sermon” in his whole life. I replied, “Not true. Every day you listen to hundreds if not thousands of sermons. They are called advertising ‘messages,’ but they’re really sermons.” If preachers will learn to communicate in the language of their culture—-narraitve, metaphor, soundtrack—we will have redicosvered the original lingua franca for faith—-story, image, song. It’s a story that, unlike the “sermons” of the culture, don’t need constant sexing up. The Jesus Story, “This is My Story, This is My Song,” catches you by the throat and captures your heart.

 

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