PREACHING WITH ALL YOU’VE GOT: Embodying the Word by David Day
Preaching with All You’ve Got is not intended to cover the homiletical waterfront. It does not deal with the theology of preaching. It does not provide exegetical and hermeneutical guidance for preaching on a given biblical text. It does not teach the art of sermon construction. It is not that these issues are unimportant to the author; they’re simply not within the scope of his book. This obviously means that the book at best can serve only as a supplementary text for any standard homiletics course.
What Dr. Day’s book does cover is suggested by its title, Preaching with All You’ve Got. Actually, that title says more than it at first seems to. Initially, the title seems to be urging the preacher to deliver his sermon with all the energy, sincerity,and personal involvement he can muster up.The title is suggesting that–and more. Turns out that the phrase “preaching with all you’ve got” doesn’t just refer to the preacher’s physical energy, personality, and sanctification level. “All you’ve got” refers also to the language skills the preacher possesses, the media tools his culture provides him, and the audience he has at a particular moment. “All you’ve got” refers to things external to the preacher as well as things internal.
I was pleased that the first item in the scope of this book was the preacher himself: his character, his personality, his sanctification level.We can never be reminded too often that all the homiletical skill in the world (which God grant!) is little more than sounding brass and tinkling cymbal unless the preacher is a man of God whom people love and trust. God-manufactured sanctification is a prerequisite for effective preaching.
Christian character a prerequisite for preaching–yes! But that’s not all there is to preaching. “Smarts” are needed too. The preacher ought to be a wordsmith. He should be sensitive to the potential of art, literature, press, radio, television,computer, and internet for the communication of the Gospel. He needs to incorporate his audience into the construction and implementation of his sermons. To Dr. Day’s credit, his book explores each of these areas fully and specifically. (Just one example: it devotes a whole chapter to the proper use of Power Point!)
For me the most challenging part of Dr. Day’s book was the last section, “The Word embodied in the listeners.” It’s so easy for a preacher to think that his sermon is done when he has successfully delivered it and vacated the pulpit. Not so! “Once we have spoken the words we are more or less powerless to control what happens to them. But my main point is that we should be glad that the congregation will take the sermon over. We should be planning for this to happen. The sermon is worthless until it is detached from us and owned by the hearers” (161). Just to have that aspect of preaching impinged on my consciousness was worth the reading of Preaching with All You’ve Got. The concept is an excellent one, and consistent with his practice elsewhere in the book the author amply and specifically illustrates the concept. Many of his suggestions were helpful. But some of them struck my typical Lutheran reserve as bordering on gimmickry and childishness. (For instance, his example of a preacher providing his audience with bulbs to plant at home after the service,putting a stone over the planting, then waiting for the bulb in its growth to push the stone aside–all of this as an object lesson for the power of Christ’s resurrection [1381).Unless carefully managed, audience participation can trivialize rather than dramatize the point of a message. Sometimes audience participation can embarrass people, a danger to the author’s credit that he acknowledges (170). More serious to me is the all too frequent assumption that a passive audience is not participating in the message being heard. Given our proclivity to dullness, we preachers need to recognize this outcome as a possibility. But “truth hath a quiet breast,” according to Shakespeare, and I might add that the same is true of audience involvement.Not all hoped for outcomes from a sermon need to be immediate and/or visible. In our appropriate efforts to get an audience tangibly involved,we must be careful not to deny the power of God’s Word to do its thing, quietly, gradually, and in its own unique God-fashioned way.That is the lesson of The Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4: 26-29).
Francis C. Rossow