How to Preach about Giving – 10 Tips

25 09 2013

Preaching about giving is perhaps the most regularly ducked pulpit challenge. These tips might just help you find the courage to enjoy it.

1. Balance spirituality and practicality.

Someone has said that leadership is a mix of plumbing and poetry. Often preaching about giving is too predictable, utterly prosaic and gets to the practicalities too soon.  Find a way of making your preaching about giving poetic.

2. Open the Lens

Preaching this area often begins apologetically and then gets into micro-detail.  Try a different tack. Think of using a wide-angle lens on a camera. Take in the whole cultural landscape. Get into the current debate about sufficiency.  Google ‘enough is enough’ and see what you find.

3. Aim at the Block

Annie Dillard offers this advice to writers: don’t focus on the words themselves but on the page behind them. Aim at the (chopping) block just as a good axe-person does. In other words, don’t be too detailed, specific or precise. Aim to inspire people to become generous rather than telling them what to do.

4. Don’t Forget Sin

If you make a list of how many sins are connected with money you will see what you are up against. The list is long. This is not an invitation to say to people that they are greedy, avaricious and full of envy for anyone richer than they are. But you might like to have in the back of your mind that we are all screwed up about money to some degree or another and that this is why you need to preach about this.

5. Make Gratitude a Habit

We can easily get into mental knots about who should thank whom when people give to the Church. Disentangle yourself! Take the risk of thanking liberally. It’s a good habit and evidence of generosity of spirit – which is the key to all this.

6. Read John Chapters 2, 4 and 6

Here you will find stories of ‘too much wine, too much water, and too much bread’ as Sam Wells has put it.  Preach and live this gospel of excess and abundance and rail against scarcity thinking.

7. Think and say ‘we’ and ‘us’.

Without a sense of community and mutual dependency there will never be a culture of generous, genuine, open-handed giving.

8. Rail Against Scarcity Thinking

Yes, I had made this point already. It’s the key to all this. The world thinks ‘scarcity’ but the gospel is ‘plenty’. The task is to preach the gospel and to remember that generosity is a spiritual issue with financial implications, not a financial issue with spiritual implications.

9. Think, Live and Breathe ‘flow’.

Grace is never stagnant, nor does the Spirit sit still. Giving is about allowing yourself to enter into the flow of God’s generosity. Let go. Let go. Let go.

10. Set an Example

As a preacher you will be doing this whether you like it or not. Your attitude will communicate more than your words.  That means that you must be actually, practically, positively and spiritually  generous yourself. People will notice, but don’t spoil it by telling them,

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New Year’s Resolutions for Preachers 2013

29 12 2012

Last year I put together a list of ten. I have polished it up a bit for 2013.

The  general message is to go for quality and connection.  Less really is more in preaching.  If people start to ask for more then you are really getting somewhere. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does…. So:

  1. Preach shorter.
  2. Preach less often.
  3. Get started on your sermon preparation earlier in the week.
  4. Pray for the gift of good words and let them flow naturally.
  5. Persuade someone into the pulpit who has never been there before.
  6. Actively seek feedback on both delivery and content. (Who do you  trust to give it?)
  7. Notice when you switch on and when you switch off when listening to or reading other people’s sermons.
  8. Watch the body language of the congregation when you or others are preaching. What makes them yawn? What makes them sit forward?
  9. Sometimes, but not always, preach without notes.
  10. Commit to growing in your ministry of preaching this year.

What would you add to the list?





A Sermon To End All Sermons: Do’s and Don’ts on Remembrance Sunday

4 11 2012

No one argues with you if you say that it is difficult to preach on Remembrance Sunday. Though why it is more difficult than any other Sunday I can’t really think.  In fact, in some ways it might be easier.

After all, it’s a day when the secular calendar and the religious calendar overlap. It’s certainly an occasion where you don’t have to hunt around for a theme. And it’s a ceremony when people really do care what you say and will notice if you put your foot in it. This may not be the sermon to end all sermons – but it certainly matters. It will be remembered.

My most memorable preaching experiences on Remembrance Sunday come from my Loughborough days when I was Chaplain to the Royal British Legion and spoke at the service in the town’s Queen’s Park. The service was under the  wonderful Carillon War Memorial. The carillonneur played Chopin’s Funeral March as the wreaths were laid. Poppies fell during the silence, which ended with a rifle shot from the top of the tower directly above my head. I shared the shelter of the doorway with other local clergy and the President of the RBL, Jim Pitts, while anything from one to two thousand people stood for the whole ceremony. One of my most abiding parish memories is of watching petals fall on Jim’s hat-covered head as I stood immediately behind him.

So – the challenge: a four-figure congregation, outdoors, standing up, in November. It didn’t take long for me to decide that it would be a very bad idea to bore them rigid with church-speak, or to foist my own sociopolitical views on them.

Anyway – that’s my credentials. Here is my list of do’s and dont’s.

Do:

  1. ask others how long it should be and believe them.
  2. write a script, read it out loud in advance to time it, and stick to it.
  3. mention films or literature that will help people focus.
  4. reach out to all who will be present. Remembrance is an inclusive all-age activity.
  5. find something personal to say, something that only you could say. (But keep it really brief, a tiny touch will do.)
  6. connect with the spirit of silent remembrance.
  7. spend half an hour imagining how you would  feel on Remembrance Sunday if you had been involved in active service and had lost friends.
  8. go and read all the names on your local war memorial.
  9. inject Gospel hope into both the tone and content of what you say.

Don’t:

  1. include any pulpit humour in the opening paragraph.
  2. construct an argument about just war theory.
  3. become a political commentator for the day.
  4. pay any attention to aspects of the ceremony you find uncomfortable – just screen them out and focus on the bits that have meaning for you.
  5. even think about wearing a white poppy.

P.S.  When I first thought about this I imagined the ‘don’ts’ would outnumber the ‘do’s’ but I am glad it is the other way around.

P.P.S. I myself will be preaching in Durham Cathedral, where people will be sitting comfortably. Nonetheless I plan to take a strong dose of my own ‘do and don’t’ medicine. I hope it works for us all.

P.P.P.S  I know this is a bit opinionated, but comment is free.





New Year’s Resolutions for Preachers

2 01 2012

Think of this post as a kind of ‘extra’. It’s not a Sermon Starter for a particular Sunday but something a bit more generic. Depending on passing inspiration, there may be more like this in 2012.

I once read a book about preaching which said that the paradoxical nature of what we proclaim requires us to contradict ourselves from time to time.  I like that idea very much and every now and again like to be sure to live up to it.  So – having blogged against the normally understood idea of New Year’s resolutions (see  http://stephencherry.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/new-years-resolutions-for-real-people/) I am now going to list some traditionally shaped ones for preachers.

  1. Preach varied.
  2. Preach short(er).
  3. Prepare longer.
  4. Prepare varied.
  5. Pray for the gift of good words.
  6. Persuade someone into the pulpit who has never been there before and support him or her through their first offering.
  7. Invite him or her back if he or she can connect people with God.
  8. Read or listen to other people’s sermons. (Notice when you switch on and when you switch off.)
  9. Watch the body language of the congregation when you or others are preaching. Ask yourself , ‘what is God saying to me through these responses?’
  10. Commit to growing in your ministry of preaching this year.

I wish you, and those who hear your sermons, every blessing in 2012.

Stephen

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PPS Comments on the list above v. welcome.