With an attendance of nearly 300 persons — representing fourteen denominations and more than thirty states — the second annual National Conference on Preaching offered a stimulating schedule of addresses, sermons and workshops.
“Power in Preaching” was the theme of NCP II, which brought a series of outstanding conference leaders to Atlanta May 1-3. Here are some selected quotes about preaching (for additional quotes and illustrations from NCP II, see this issue’s “To Illustrate” column on page 41).
William H. Willimon
Minister to the University
Duke University
“Sometimes sermons backfire, they roll over, they play dead, they limp off into obscurity, they just miss the mark. And sometimes, maybe worse, they work and you don’t know why.”
“The church was prior to the Bible, but it was Scripture — and the process of listening to Scripture and arguing about Scripture — that formed a different community. So it’s not too much to say that, in a way, this Scripture, this Bible conquered the empire. In defiance of all sociological laws, it formed a people that was non-violent in the midst of a violent culture. It was a people that grew up without any other sociological or cultural or ethnic support. That’s power!”
William Hinson
Pastor, First United Methodist Church
Houston, TX
“Authentic preaching is always charismatic in nature. We know and accept that, but we have discovered that good things happen more often when we work at it than when we don’t…. The symbol of the prophet has never been a sceptre but a hoe. The work of the preacher is hard work.”
“The strategic moment in your church and in mine is after the choir has sung the anthem, and the people sit down and cough and look for that comfortable position in the pew and maybe kick off their shoes. If something significant doesn’t happen then, you can forget about the rest of the possibilities in your church — they won’t happen either. Preaching is central in the plan and purpose of God, and it has to be primary in ours as well or we won’t take the time that real preparation requires.”
“The person who is always available doesn’t bring anything when you get him. Jesus wasn’t always available. There were times when there were bodies to be blessed and people who wanted to hear Him preach, and He turned His back and walked away and went to the hills. … I’m not always available, and you’d better not be either.”
William Self
Pastor, Wieuca Road Baptist Church
Atlanta, GA
“Preaching is oral. You’re preparing for the ear, not for the eye. That’s the big mistake my generation made in preaching.”
Robert Sims
Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
Atlanta, GA
“Preaching without a manuscript is not just another method. It’s not even a style. It is a process — a whole different process — of preparing and preaching a sermon. Preaching without a manuscript requires more preparation than preaching with one.”
Richard Allen Bodey
Professor of Practical Theology
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
“There is a difference between literary style and oral style. Manuscript preachers, for the most part, use literary style. There are advantages to that — precision of language is one. There are pearls in that style. But there is little extemporaneity in that style — you will not usually have as much liveliness.”
John Killinger
Distinguished Professor of Religion & Culture
Samford University
“There is so much happening all around us all the time — not just as preachers but as individuals — and the least we can do in a world that’s so filled with grace is to try to be there. One of the problems with being a preacher is that you get so busy that you get the ‘blind staggers’ — you don’t see much of anything, you don’t feel much of anything…. Part of what makes it easier as a preacher is to develop an eye for seeing everything around you in a homiletical way.”
Frank Harrington
Pastor, Peachtree Presbyterian Church
Atlanta, GA
“The key to usefulness in ministry is a four-letter word: W-O-R-K. Our best is going to require hard work. The bottom line is: we are never to offer to God in ministry — or in any vocation — anything that costs us nothing.”
Tom Steagald
Pastor, Highlands United Methodist Church
Highlands, NC
“In our society, magnitude has become a synonym for power…. We sometimes feel defeated before we ever begin, because in the small church we don’t attract big crowds.
“In a world where big is almost always seen as better — and bigger still is better yet — in a world where the faster is the more excellent, in the ecclesiastical world where crystal cathedrals get the headlines … In a world such as ours, still there is something about the small church, where folks call us preacher. A small church is characterized by relationship.”
Paul Borden
Executive Vice President
Denver Seminary
“We live in an existential society where values, ideals, morality are taught through stories. All of us as preachers, at one time or another, have probably decried television, movies, plays, books. Whatever we say, they influence our culture. Why? Because they’re stories.”
Timothy George
Dean, Beeson Divinity School
Samford University
“You see the impact of a person like Ambrose on St. Augustine. The great bishop of Milan’s preaching attracted Augustine long before he was really persuaded by the theology of Ambrose. (It was) the persuasiveness of his rhetoric.”
The third annual National Conference on Preaching is scheduled for February 19-21, 1991, in Orlando, Florida. Mark your calendar now and plan to be part of this exciting event, which will feature speakers such as Gardner C. Taylor, Stuart Briscoe, James Earl Massey, Stephen Brown, Jim Henry, and a host of others.

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