by Fred R. Lybrand
Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008. Paper, 182 pp.
Some books inspire me, and some at least inform me. This one just annoyed me.
A personal bias: I believe in the exclusivity of Christ but not the exclusivity of any one approach to preaching. So when I run across a book by someone who has discovered some new approach that works for him and then declares that all others are inferior, it’s not a book I’ll typically recommend.
For Fred Lybrand, a former speech teacher and now pastor of a Bible church in San Antonio, the concept of “preaching on your feet” is an extemporaneous presentation rooted in thought and reading but with no planned structure or wording and certainly nothing so gauche as a piece of paper carried into the pulpit. He calls on us to simply preach “in the moment.”
Again and again, he laments those uninspiring preachers who prepare a “manuscript or thick outline.” He has apparently convinced himself that the use of notes or a manuscript-indeed, of any pre-planned structure or wording to the sermon-hobbles the preacher and limits him to a dry, dusty presentation with no passion, no energy, no power. Indeed, “precision” is equated to sterility. He seems to have no conception that the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching might extend to the time of preparation as well as the moment of delivery. And he seems to be utterly unaware that it’s possible to write a sermon without reading it aloud and/or memorizing it for presentation.
The author asserts: “The Bible has no example of any preacher ever using notes or a manuscript in his sermon.” True. There is also no example of church buildings, pews, hymnals or powerpoint, microphones or parking lots. Lybrand does not indicate if any of these extra-biblical items may be found in his own church. As Jim Shaddix has noted, it is dangerous to focus our attention exclusively on the model of the preaching of Jesus and the apostles, who tended to be itinerant, missionary preachers. Today’s pastors, who serve a single congregation and preach week by week, can learn from biblical preaching models but must also recognize the demands of a different context in which they proclaim the gospel today.
Lybrand appears to believe that preparation of a manuscript, notes or outline requires a formality that excludes spontaneity or the inspiration of the moment. He seems utterly oblivious to the reality that some of the most effective preachers-including many of the best-known and most influential in our own day-utilize extended notes or manuscripts with such freshness and power that most listeners are unaware that a prepared manuscript even exists.
The reality is that writing sermons can be done well or done poorly. Effective preachers learn to write for the ear (not the eye); and they learn to present their messages with passion and power, often with little or no reference to text or notes. They do understand that words are powerful things and that it can be far more effective to struggle to find the right words in the study than to hope for them in the pulpit.
Overall, my impression of this book is of an author who reflects little awareness of the reality of preaching beyond his own small circle. “It is little wonder,” says Lybrand, “that excellent preachers are rare in our day and time.” Fred really does need to get out more.