Thank You Dr. Dennis Kinlaw

Dr. Dennis Kinlaw was a college president, an Old Testament professor, a chancellor, an author, the founder of a society. But many of us will remember him as a preacher. In the religious arena I was raised in, holiness preachers were giants. Dr. Kinlaw was considered a giant among giants. When he preached you were sure of two things; he was serious about the biblical text AND he loved the listener. I remember sitting in a college classroom when our professor looked out at young preachers and said “we want to shape you into preachers like Dennis Kinlaw.”

Kinlaw would not have said anything quite like that. In his Preaching in the Spirit he says “it is part of the miraculous work of God that he uses the likes of you and me, not to mention the likes of our sermons…” Kinlaw goes so far as to say “the greatest problem in preaching is not the preparation of the sermon but the preparation of the preacher.”

I once heard Kinlaw preach a sermon that included an active conversation between members of the Trinity. I am not sure how often he used that as a homiletic tool but he includes another of these conversations in Preaching. “There are some days when I know I have not acted as I ought… I can almost hear the heavenly Father ask Jesus, ‘Son, how did that Kinlaw guy do today?’ I hear the Son respond, ‘Well, Father, he did not do so well today.’ I quake as I hear the Father say, ‘Shall we give up on him?’” Kinlaw goes on, “I see Jesus lift two scarred hands to the Father and say, ‘No, Father. We have a substantial investment in him.’” Kinlaw claims to have a love affair with those scars.

Kinlaw provides excellent counsel when he says things like “I am a Wesleyan in theology, but I need to be very careful that when I read the Bible my concern is not to find what Wesley taught, but to discover the Word of God. If Wesley opens windows on the Word of God… three cheers for Wesley; but the important thing is that the Word of God comes alive for me, so that I can share it with others.”

It is holy week as I write this. I am reminded of Kinlaw’s conversation about the followers of Jesus following the crucifixion. Jesus had died and had been buried. Disciples were feeling some strong feelings. Ad then, on Sunday, some strange stories were being told. And “As the shadows lengthened into night, those who knew him best sought out one another; when they had found each other, they locked the doors…” Then “the miracle occurred… He was there, the Living Lord in their midst… Death had not really contained Him. He was alive!

Of this we can be certain; Kinlaw would want us to continue telling these strange stories.

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A Preaching Gift for the Church

Mike Walters is currently serving as an adjunct professor for Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, NY. Previously, he served various roles at Houghton College in Houghton, NY. Before that, Mike served at Ohio Christian University which is where I first met him. Mike has authored two books. James: a Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition and Can’t Wait for Sunday: Leading Your Congregation in Authentic Worship. Both are published by Wesleyan Publishing House.

I recently had the opportunity to hear Mike preach. In one of those sermons he claimed that he could be cantankerous at times. (He did not give opportunity for agreement or disagreement). Still, he is a preacher who intends to preach the things the text sees as important. He has an interest in what the text was written to do. I am pretty certain he would claim he is not smart enough to do anything else. He can only preach what is given by the text. Walters will work to keep the text in front of the listener. And sometimes he will allow the text to sneak up behind the listener. But he always wants the sermon to always be about the text.

Walters has preached enough sermons and taught enough preaching classes that he knows how to keep the text in the forefront. He will highlight small details that may be easily overlooked. He will visit his own personal history. He will use images from pop culture. He will quote theologians and monastics. He will make up his own phrases. But he only does any of these things in order to push forward the conversation about the text.

When listeners hear Walters talk about the bible they will realize that though culture appears to have changed a lot over the centuries, people patterns have not. Because of this, Walters is able to make characters of the bible recognizable. This is an important part of his preaching because he wants listeners to understand that God is quite familiar with characters like us. God has been working with the likes of you and me for a long time. The church is fortunate for the preaching ministry of Mike Walters.

About Sermon Prep

I am serving in a generous congregation that wants to make sure they compensate the preacher fairly. A question then, that came up more than once was “How long does it take to prepare a sermon?” Others may disagree, but I think it’s a difficult question to answer. In order to preach a sermon the preacher must pull from every place visited, every person met, every conversation held, every family get together, every book read… for every sermon the preacher pulls from a lifetime of experiences.

I suppose one could start the clock on a Monday, select a text, consult outside resources, and arrive at a finished product by Sunday. But that sounds like a recipe for a boring sermon.

Because of this dilemma, well-meaning consultants like Bill Tenny-Brittian and Bill Easum have offered consultation. Their solution, spend less than two hours a week on the sermon. Preach a sermon from a great preacher who writes great “sermons that rock people’s lives” (their words not mine). A short list of such preachers include Andy Stanley, Tim Keller, Adam Hamilton (their list not mine).

I want to point out I think they are well meaning Christians who want to see the church grow. They demonstrate common sense. They are helpful in terms of efficiency. They demonstrate acceptable ethical suggestions. But the fact remains, this is not the way to prepare a sermon. It is the un-carnational version of sermon prep.

The preacher should be who they are in the pulpit and never pretend to be someone else. A sermon is local and specific and incarnational. The sermon brings together God and text and congregation in a specific place and time.

Still, we cannot deny the necessity of reading, listening to, and learning from others. I like what Scot McKnight says about this. “To be sure, nearly every sermon emerges from books and sermons and ideas and all sorts of things that are used. But it is bricolage, it is quilting,it is convergence – it is precisely those things and not simple usage of others.” I rather like that description of piecing a sermon together. He goes on “Taking someone’s sermon destroys the bricolage and turns it into a canned, deceitful act of creating a false image in front of God’s people.”

This is exactly why preachers should spend time with the people. If they do not, I am not sure they will have anything to say. This is why preachers read and watch movies and follow plot. This is why preachers listen carefully to text and carefully to the stories of people. This is why nearly any activity becomes a new source for sermon prep. Only by spending the necessary time to engage in these things will they be able to participate meaningfully in the conversation between text and people on a Sunday morning.

Preacher as Fellow Adventurer

Preaching is not a side note to real life. It is not helpful words for those who are spiritually inclined. It is not someone who knows much standing before those who know less in order to tell them what they are unable to figure out on their own. Preaching is an invitation to a reality that is often overlooked for things louder and more profitable.

Preaching acknowledges that we are not the first to come this way. Patriarchs, prophets, and poets have walked in this place before. The path is not untraveled, but has become overgrown with thistles and burrs and desires and excesses. There is plenty of cover for predators who hunger for our soul. We are on an adventure and we walk into the text knowing there are risks both for entering it and for avoiding it.

This is dangerous terrain and we do not send people in alone. The preacher is not at the trailhead peddling maps, supplies, and offering advice. The preacher is strapping on gear and entering the wild with other adventurers. Together we search for sign and point out blazes left by those who have traveled this way before.

This Adventure We Call Preaching

It is still several months away but one of the things that I am looking forward to this summer is taking place on July 25.  On that day, I will be joining Dr. Mike Walters of Houghton College in conversation about this adventure we call preaching.  Dr. Walters is an excellent instructor and influencer.  I have experienced this first hand as he is responsible for introducing me to New Testament Greek and to soccer in my early years of college and I can’t shake either habit.  So do not expect anything less than being influenced significantly for years to come.

The sessions will be held in Binghamton, New York on July 25 from 9am – 3pm.  Following is an early schedule of what to expect;

9:00am – Randy Saultz – “Follow the Text: The Different Paths of the Biblical Narrative”

10:15am – Mike Walters – “Preachers and Their Bibles: How Issues in the Study Follow Us into the Pulpit”

11:30am – lunch

12:45pm – Randy Saultz – “Every Sermon Needs a Deliverer: Exodus as a Paradigm of the Human Dilemma”

2:00pm – Mike Walters – “Working the Text: Tools for the Preacher’s Toolbox”