The Practices of Christian Preaching

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 27 Dec 2019

Member Reviews

What has a jazz musician got to do with a Christian preacher? Is there any connection between playing music and the preaching of the Bible? Yes there is, says author and professor Jared Alcántara. That one key word in common: Practice. Anticipating objections with regard to human-centered efforts in the ministry of the Word, the author makes a case for spiritual growth via spiritual practices and bearing fruit. He boldly claims that: "preachers who cultivate life-giving preaching habits through deliberate practice will enhance their proficiency, grow in their commitment, and flourish in their homiletical ministry." The reason for advocating constant practice is three-fold. First, without deliberate practice, no matter how skilled or knowledgeable one is, deterioration would happen over time. Second, talking about practice is different from actually doing it. Thus, the book is arranged in a practice-oriented approach. Third, there is a consistent focus on both the what and the how of preaching. Using the 5Cs to alliterate the practices of Christian preaching, Alcántara proceeds with using a chapter each to elucidate the practices.
Preach Convictionally: to let our words reflect the truth of the Bible;
Preach Contextually: to be faithful to the meaning behind the texts;
Preach Clearly: to ensure our message can be easily understood;
Preach Concretely: to remain connected with our listeners;
Preach Creatively: to learn how to break through any barriers.

In our modern age, it is increasingly tempting to bring the world instead of the Word into the pulpit. As God gets mentioned less and less, the world of self-motivation and self-fulfillment takes center stage. Preaching is a call for a return to the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Otherwise, we will see more churches closing down and worshipers content only in shallow messages that hardly scrape the meaning of the gospel. Recognizing the need to swim against the tide of worldliness, Alcántara urges preachers to know the gospel that we preach; to describe the gospel that is "transformative, offensive, hopeful, prophetic, and eschatological,"; and to resist the temptation to preach "pseudo-gospels." He points out five such dangers. First, beware the "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" that teaches us to act good and feel good from a power that is less about God, but more about human efforts.  Second, we must be careful not to ally the gospel too closely to political ideologies. Otherwise, people vote according to the political preferences instead of gospel principles. Third, do not use the gospel for preaching prosperity and worldliness. Fourth, avoid the use of the gospel to preach legalism. Fifth, do not preach the gospel of grace without discipleship. The way forward is to preach the Word; preach redemption in Jesus; preach both lament and hope; preach as reminders of the truth; and preach the narrative content of the text. In fact, the best antidote to any preachers' preaching would be the critique that it's not Christ-focused enough. The gospel redeems and it is important that this truth be communicated across by the preacher. Alcántara shows us the way of practicing the 5 Cs of Christian preaching.

In Preaching Convictionally, we are reminded that preaching is powerful when the preacher is convicted about the message. It inspires one to rise above oneself. Using models of conviction from Scripture, tradition, and a growing preaching life, we learn that conviction is not about the removal of doubt but a sincere belief regardless of the doubts. The author also cautions us against letting conviction tempt us toward negative traits such as workaholism; vanity; arrogance; inauthenticity; and prayerlessness. Preaching Contextually keeps us grounded in the original messages. We are reminded that the preparation before one preach is crucial. Through prayer, study, reflection, and detailed preparation, we learn to connect the past to the present, with an orientation toward the future. Alcántara gives some helpful tips about what contextualization is and what it is not. In Preaching Clearly, we learn about the importance of simplicity. Alcántara uses the example of Leonardo da Vinci's world famous painting of Mona Lisa to point out the beauty and sophistication of a simple village girl. Many of the famous preachers in the past are well-known for clarity and simplicity in their messages. The key is to put forth a memorable main idea from start to finish. I like the reminder not to count the minutes that we preach but to make every minute count. That is worth the price of the book! His imagery of a tour guide that shows guests highlights instead of everything is a great reminder about focusing on the main point. This is by far my favourite chapter. In Preaching Concretely, we learn about specificity and the importance not to become too abstract with our thoughts and words. Using the imagery of a ladder, we need to learn to climb down from a high tower to where the people are. He suggests strategies such as focusing on the details of a text; using illustrations; and showing specific applications. Finally, Preaching Creatively contains ideas, tips, and many suggestions on how to make the message come alive in the minds of both the preacher and the listener.

My Thoughts
This is a really helpful book not just for beginner preachers but for all preachers. The 5Cs of Christian Preaching are not only easy to remember, it is a message in itself for preachers and preachers to be. I like the way Alcántara stresses the importance of preaching Christian sermons, and to remind us not to become too influenced by the world of entertainment and showbiz. TV, movies, YouTube, and all the sensational staff may thrill listeners for a while. However, it is the Word of God that would last eternally. For the Word of God is eternal. That is why preachers must not only preach the Word, but to do so with conviction, with contextual understanding, with clarity, with concrete communications; and with creative mindset. In fact, if preachers could just do one of the Cs very well, it would have made a major impact on the overall sermon.

The strengths of this book is in its clarity and ease of remembering the concepts. In fact, throughout the book, Alcántara has put his very words into practice. For instance, he opens up with conviction about the very title of the chapter, using focused quotes from well-known individuals to give readers a big introduction. he then describes the contexts of the chapter with conviction. The examples and illustrations are relevant and poignant. Alcántara not only talks about the need to be concrete. He shows us. I like the many images and illustrations used which highlight the key concepts of each chapter. Reading this book alone energizes the reader and the preacher not only to preach well, but to want to preach well.

If there is a weakness, I would say there is a lack of visual images, tables, or symbols throughout the book. Perhaps, the copy I have is not a final edition. I would hope that the final version would have some visual art to bring across the point, such as Leonardo da Vinci's works. Just saying.

I am happy to recommend this book to anyone interested in preaching or are involved in the ministry of preaching.

Jared E Alcántara is associate professor of preaching at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Baylor University. He is also the holder of the Paul W. Powell endowed chair of preaching. He has also served as youth pastor, associate pastor, and teaching pastor various states such as Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, and New Jersey.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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Most people think that preaching comes naturally to people. Even preachers! But Jared E. Alcántara wants to remind his readers that it doesn’t – just like any other function, it requires practice.

Goals of the Book:

This may or may not come as a surprise to you: there are a lot of opinions on what makes a good preacher. A lot of people think that good preaching comes naturally, and if you have to work very hard at it, you’re probably not cut out for the job. A lot of other people that the preacher needs to have some sort of natural charisma, the ability to tell a joke, the audacity to weave a story so gripping that the congregation can’t help but lean into their preaching.

Thankfully, God doesn’t ask for all of that. Instead, he asks for faithful preachers who practice their craft. Jason Alcántara wants to help preachers become better practitioners of preaching, which will, in turn, make them better preachers. We don’t rely on our natural charisma because that betrays the reality of the gospel. Instead, we lean in and practice preaching because of what God has done for us in the Gospel, which makes us want to preach better and more boldly.

What Does This Offer the Church?.

Alcántara makes a non-controversial central claim in the book: “preachers who cultivate life-giving preaching habits through deliberate practice will enhance their proficiency, grow in their commitment, and flourish in their homiletical ministry.” (loc. 145) Through careful practice and reading of this book (and interacting with non-book materials, as reviewed below), pastors will become better preachers, become more faithful in their preaching duties, and will more effectively preach the gospel to their congregations. What more could you want to offer the church?

This book does not exist in a vacuum alone, thankfully. While this book is jam-packed with good information, the team behind the book has also created a wealth of resources and materials to interact with outside of the book. These are designed to stretch the viewer – the introduction notes that people may become uncomfortable with some ideas presented. I appreciated their up-front-ness about that!

How effectively does it communicate its goals?

Finally, how effectively did it communicate these goals? Alcántara knows how to write a book. The prose is helpful, but rarely dry – it feels like a preaching textbook in how much material is presented, but it never reads like a textbook. For that, I am very thankful. He also uses good tools to help us remember what he is saying, using alliterations (in English and Spanish!) to drive home his five categories of growing in preaching: conviction, contextualization, clarity, concreteness, and creativity. Thankfully, all of these concepts are explained well, with definite handholds given that teach us how to move forward in our practice of these categories. (Sometimes preaching textbooks feel so esoteric they are unhelpful – thankfully, not the case here!)

If you’re interested in preaching, and putting in the hard work to do it, I recommend this title. You can check out Baker’s website for more info or pre-order it on Amazon today!
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