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Dr. Lovejoy is a Professor of Preaching @ Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His use of multiple delivery styles, years of pulpit experience, commitment to excellence, and his vast knowledge of the preaching arena, combine together to make him a Master Communicator ...
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TodaysPreacher with Dr. Grant Lovejoy
TP: Along with or other than the call of God, what made you want to become a "teacher" of preachers??
I did not set out to teach preaching. Through a series of events I felt led of God to major in preaching in my Ph.D. work, but I was still thinking that I would probably spend my life as a pastor. But I discovered that I really enjoyed the equipping part of my work as a pastor. I took that as an indicator that I would like helping ministers cultivate their preaching skills. Plus, members of my congregation and other discerning Christians who knew me well said that I had spiritual gifts for teaching. It also helped that as a graduate student grading hundreds of student sermons I had come to relish the challenge of finding ways to improve whatever students turned in. Sometimes it was like making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but generally it was deeply satisfying to me to find a better way to say what the scripture was saying. When I was asked to become a teacher of preaching, God used those things to confirm my sense of calling.
TP: Who are your favorite preachers??
I like hearing a variety of preachers better than listening to the same handful regularly, so I am a fan of the Preaching Today series. It offers a cross-section of excellent evangelical preaching. Through PT I've come to appreciate people I might not have known otherwise, like Bob Russell of
Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.
TP: Other than the Bible, what is the greatest resource to a preacher today??? (The internet, specific type of commentary, specific preaching journal, etc??)
Apart from the Bible, the Holy Spirit is our greatest resource. I've been humbled and corrected over the last few years as I've visited pastors in the developing world who had none of the sermon resources we take for granted in North America. Just to have a Bible they could read was a privilege. But they preach the truth with power and effectiveness as a result of prayerful meditation on Scripture and life. They follow the Spirit's leading. Sometimes I wonder if we don't make the task of preaching way too complicated. My students probably would agree!
TP: You've been teaching preaching for 12 years now, so you have seen a lot of students come through your classes.
What is the one major weakness or hurdle you see students struggle with most when it comes to preaching??
Finding balance is hard. It forces most of us to move beyond our comfort zone, learn to do some things other than the ones we are most comfortable with. Plus there is a tendency to over-correct once we try to stretch ourselves. It's a bit like sighting in a gun. You may shoot high consistently, then too low, but with patience and ongoing adjustment, you get zeroed in on the target. Of course, in ministry, just about the time that happens we change ministries or the culture shifts again, and it's time to get sighted in again.
TP: I notice that many preachers go through seminary, learn and get trained on the ministry of preaching, and then never seem to sharpen their preaching skills after graduation.
Why do you think that is??
Pastors are pulled in so many directions that it is hard to devote enough time to preaching to improve at it. As a result, some preachers become dependent on other people's outlines, illustrations, even whole sermons. Once they do that, they'll not improve as preachers. The other missing
element for most preachers is informed, constructive feedback. Most preachers could make steady improvement if they had honest, insightful evaluation of what they are doing and acted on it. The dramatic improvement many of my students show during seminary can be attributed to those two factors: feedback and work. There's no reason that process could not continue throughout a preacher's ministry.
Fortunately, there are preachers who are modeling this ongoing commitment to improving their preaching.
TP: You are well known for being good at story telling and use of the narrative approach to preaching. Many preaching books make an appeal for using the narrative style in a person's preaching ministry, but I see or hear of very few preachers actually using it. Why do you think pastors don't use this style very much???
Maybe they don't know how, or they heard some weak sermon that excused its weakness as being "narrative." Many people have gotten the idea that a narrative sermon is not biblically grounded, just anecdotes strung together or a wild flight of homiletical fancy full of speculation about what might have happened in a biblical story. If I thought that's all narrative
preaching could be, I'd reject it, too. Many pastors were trained in another style and are uneasy trying something new. It takes extra time, initially, to learn to do another type of preaching, so that's a factor. Sometimes congregations have fixed ideas of what constitutes a sermon, and narratives don't count.
Fred Craddock says that some preachers are reluctant to give up an authoritative style because they like telling people precisely what to do with their lives. Narrative sermons are not as booming and assertive. And then there are the men whose commitment to propositional revelation makes them think they cannot do narrative sermons because stories are not propositional enough. I think narrative messages are propositional. But the propositions are embedded in the biblical story rather than extracted from it and placed in an outline. Some people value extracted truth more than embedded truth.
TP: In many areas of the Old and New Testament you see the narrative style and the use of storying in teaching. Jesus used it all the time. Why do you think that narratives have so much potential to be effective in preaching??
Telling stories is the favorite communicational device of all time.
We think about life through the stories we have lived and the stories we have heard. They are memorable; they speak to intellect, emotions and will; they form the fabric of our whole life philosophy. Besides that, the Christian message is basically a big story composed of hundreds of smaller stories.
What could be a more natural form of communicating our message than telling its Story through stories? It is also true that stories do not seem as "in your face" as some other kinds of communication. They disarm people at the same time they intrigue them, as Nathan did with David.
TP: You operate in the arena of preaching day in and day out. When you look down the pipe in the years to come, what do you see as the greatest threat to preaching in the 21st Century??
Loss of confidence on the part of preachers. There's a perennial drumbeat suggesting that preaching is passe', outmoded and outdated, bound to be replaced shortly by the Next New Thing.
That was the situation Fred Craddock addressed in the opening lines of the book he wrote in 1971: "We are all aware that in countless courts of opinion the verdict on preaching has been rendered and the sentence passed. All this slim volume asks is a stay of execution until one other witness be heard." It's the same issue Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians. It seems moronic to believe that a single voice announcing God's message can transform lives. Preaching seems so flimsy, so feeble, so traditional, so impossible. But it pleased God to choose it as his chief means of saving and sanctifying a people for himself and he uses it to great effect. When preaching is grounded in Scripture, connected relevantly to hearers, presented by an authentic Christian, and anointed by the Spirit, it is as effective today as ever. But it takes considerable
faith to preach!
TP: Many pastors/preachers/teachers visit this site. If you could say one thing to preachers today on a mass scale, what would it be?? (Or, to say it another way, what advice do you have for those of us in the field that would help us to become better communicators of the gospel??)
People are hungry to have someone who really knows God personally and passionately tell them how they can know him that way, too. We can get so tangled up in all the other stuff of ministry that we lose sight of that simple truth. That's why I am not afraid of television, DVD, broadband internet, chat rooms, etc. God chose preaching because it is live, person-to-person communication just like he wants to have with us.
It has a perennial advantage in this respect.