Then David took his staff in his hand, and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook. He put them in a shepherd’s bag to store away, and in his hand was his sling. He then approached the Philistine.
I Kingdoms 17:20 (Orthodox Study Bible)
I Samuel 17:40 (Western Bibles)
One of the great pitfalls of preaching is that we want to sound like someone else who is very popular. In my recent e-mail exchanges with Archbishop Puhalo, I am reminded of lessons learned from the AME Bishop Adam Richardson about Prophetic Sermon Preparation. I am called to preach with my own voice, the one God gave me. I have always admired the wisdom and sermonic pace of Gardner C. Taylor. Other than him and perhaps one or two other “old school” preachers, I don’t try to follow anyone’s style. Even with those giants of the pulpit, I am well aware of my limitations. I lack all of their education. I have tried from time to time, but, I cannot “whoop” (the expressive pattern of repetition and tone usually found in African-American preaching). So, I tend to study the text that I am going to preach from for a couple of days, create an outline similar to the one described in my last post, and proceed to write a manuscript.
Call and Response worship is a hallmark of the Black American Church. We preachers expect to hear some “Amens” during the sermon. The problem is when we focus too much getting a response from the congregation and not enough on the content of our messages. We wind up preaching stuff that is only meant to draw responses, or bury our good messages with an overabundance of response begging, especially toward the end of the sermon. I confess, I like to hear some responses as much as the next preacher. But, my task is to declare the Gospel without stroking the needs of my ego.
On Good Friday, seven ministers of the Pamunkey Baptist Association gave seven minute sermons on the seven final words of our Lord as he was being crucified. My contribution to the service went over well enough. It was brief (even shorter than my allotted time), insightful, and did get a response though not the loudest nor most enthusiastic. But, this was a service and not a competition. If I simply apply myself to crafting a good message under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I need not concern myself with time limits nor responses. The advice I got from my former campus minister, Rev. Adrian Arnold, will be my guide for the pulpit, “Always be genuine in your faith.”