After watching the college football bowl games and the early NFL playoff I had a strange dream. It was the annual Christian Super Preacher Convention Finals MCMLXXXVIII. A big TV network was there with a play-by-play man, color analyst, replays, slow-motion, everything. What a dream! I woke up with my tongue in cheek.
(The obligatory scene — announcers, with their head-sets, standing, facing the cameras and the inside of the convention center in the background.)
Joe: “Well, Al, here we are, it’s the Big One, Christian Super Preacher Finals MCMLXXVIII.”
Al: “That’s right, Joe, and you can feel the excitement in the air as the arena fills up with the faithful. This convention center is ‘state of the art.’ It seats thousands and there are no bad seats in the house.
Around us up here are the executive boxes that the big denominations lease. And are they plush! Piped in gospel music, TV monitors of the action on the platform and fellowship juice and cookies served throughout the proceedings.
And, Joe, the libraries in those exec boxes are stocked with commentaries, theology books, church history volumes and lexicons. They’ll be checking out each speaker carefully.”
Joe: “Let’s look at the lineup. We’ve got three days of convention here: sessions for debating some resolutions, some small group conferences led by up-and-coming talent. Then, what everyone’s been looking forward to, five main sermons by the biggest names in the game.”
Al: “That’s right, Joe, five of the best. First there’s Dr. William McClure, or “Boomin’ Bill.” (Graphics on the screen, McClure’s picture, height, weight and seminary information.) This fella’s got what it takes. He’s a seasoned vet. He’s preached to the big crowds. Throngs are no big deal to him.
He’s had a great year, although he was sidelined with strepthroat for four weeks. But he’s bounced back, fully recovered and he’s ready to go. Let’s see, he was invited to 73% of the minor league conventions, denominational play-offs and the like. They say he’s got a voice like a golden thread but volume to give it punch when he needs it.”
Joe: “He’s certainly going to be the man to watch. Who else will take the platform?”
Al: “That’s right, Joe, second on the line-up is the Rev. Carl Phillips. He’s what you call ‘your blue-collar’ pastor. Nothing fancy here but he gets the job done. He’s preached four times every Sunday for the …”
Joe: “That’s three Sunday Morning services, right, Al?”
Al: “That’s right, Joe. He packs ’em in. His strong suit is just hammering away until he gets through. He hits ’em high, hits ’em low. When he gets through you know you’ve been preached to good and proper. Joe, the Rev. Phillips can bench press 300 hymnals, so you know that he can pound that pulpit.”
Joe: “Al, I understand that Rev. Phillips has been called several times for ‘roughing the sinner’.”
Al: “That’s right, Joe. That’s a new penalty and some of the old time preachers are having trouble adjusting to it. Seems Rev. Phillips gets carried away and really lambasts the unbelievers.”
Joe: “I understand we’ve got a newcomer to Convention MCMLXXXVIII?”
Al: “That’s right, Joe, young Robert ‘Bobby’ Stanton. This guy’s a sensation. He’s been on the circuit, speaking to youth groups all over the country, averaging 1 1/2 sermons a day.”
Joe: “I understand that even half a sermon from Stanton is better than no sermon at all? (laughter) What’s his appeal?”
Al: “He knows how to turn a phrase that’ll stand you on your ear. Several large companies have offered him tall dollars to write advertising slogans. He really comes through with some zingers. He’s all over the platform, wears a little FM mike on his tie. Doesn’t use a note. The folks really go for that.”
Joe: “The word in the seminary locker room is that Stanton actually goes through the steps he’ll use during his sermons, like choreography.”
Al: “Well, let’s just say that Bobby Stanton’s got more moves than anyone else on the platform. He’s hot.”
Joe: “But didn’t I hear that Stanton was sacked twice this year?”
Al: “That’s right, Joe. Seems that Bobby was in Omaha, thought he was preaching to a teen ‘Christian MTV Convention’ when actually it was a ‘Ladies Aid’ gathering. They didn’t appreciate the disciples being called ‘Jesus’ back-up band’ and themselves being called ‘dudettes’.”
“And then there was the ‘Single Fry Cook’s Convention’ where he misidentified the recording artist of a top album. They had to carry him off that night. But, Joe, Bobby’s had a strong comeback. He’s on a roll.”
Joe: “That about covers the evening slot tonight, morning and afternoon tomorrow. Who’s slated for tomorrow evening?”
Al: “Dr. Charles Kelley and he’s solid. He’s got an English accent and uses the language to perfection — alliteration, onomatopoeia, similies, he does it all. His fans say they’d listen to him read the phone book. No matter what he says, the people love him.”
Joe: “And that brings us to the final speaker, Dr. Bruce White. What have you got on Dr. White?”
Al: “Joe, Dr. White, the ‘Professor,’ is the academician. He’ll bring the seminary classroom to the convention. Of course, all the pastors attending are nostalgic about seminary days, so they love it. The ‘Professor’ will labor over verb tenses, historical and contextual settings — the technical stuff.
“You can bet that well hear about some remote, early church council and the habits of the Mythicites, some biblical-era tribe of people no one’s ever heard of before. Hell pull out all the stops. Medics will be standing by during his presentations because so many of the pastors get writer’s cramp trying to take it all down.”
Joe: “Well, there you have it folks, the complete line-up. Al, they’re just finishing the last hymn and Dr. McClure is approaching the podium. Let’s go to the floor for the live action.”
(Dr. Bill begins to speak, working his way through the introduction and into his first point. All kinds of camera angles, etc.)
Joe: (voice over) “It’s easy to see how Boomin’ Bill got to the finals. An introduction that appeals to the crowd yet also ties into the subject. How do you see it, Al? How about some color commentary?”
Al: “Well, Joe, like you said, Dr. McClure is a master of introductions. One coach said, ‘The introduction should grab ’em by the lapels, throw ’em up against the wall and dare ’em to blink.’ That’s just what we’ve heard.”
Joe: “Let’s go to the floor for some first-hand reaction from the crowd. Becky, who have you got there?”
Becky (from the floor): “Yes, Joe. The crowd was caught up right away in that stimulating introduction. I’ve got Rev. Essex here. Rev. Essex, you’re from the Midwest I believe?”
Rev. Essex: “Yes, Becky, from Iowa.”
Becky: “Is this your first big-time convention?”
Rev. Essex: “Oh no, I’ve been to a lot of them. In fact, Convention MCMLXXVIII is my fifteenth.”
Becky: “You must be a real fan. What did you think about Dr. McClure’s introduction?”
Rev. Essex: “Stunning, absolutely stunning. It took my breath. And it sure got my attention right away. I was just jotting it down when you came up to get my reaction for TV.”
Becky: “Jotting it down? What do you mean?”
Rev. Essex: “Well, Becky, I figure that coming to these conventions is worth at least two month’s sermons. This introduction alone is worth its weight in gold. All together, these sermon ideas might mean a nice raise.”
Becky: “And there you have it from the floor, Joe. Back to you at the press box.”
Joe: “Thank you, Becky. Dr. McClure is well into his second point now.”
Al: “You can almost set your watch by Boomin’ Bill. He knows what he’s doing. Introduction, transition, first point, …”
Joe: “Al, hold on a second. Something’s wrong. The crowd’s obviously restless. What’s going on?”
Al: “Let me see, so far we’ve had the statement of his first point, two stories and a sparkling Greek word study …
“Wait a minute, Joe, that’s it. The shocker is, although he’s into his second point, we don’t yet know what it is. There was the recognizable transition, but then he went right into a personal illustration. Now he’s into another story and still he’s not stated his second point.”
Joe: “What’s he up to, Al? Has he forgotten his second point?”
Al: “I don’t think so, Joe. Maybe, but more than likely he’s employing a daring new concept called ‘inductive point development.’ If so, he’s building curiosity and suspense to a fever pitch, then he’ll roll out that second point.”
Joe: “Let’s go back to the floor. Becky, What’s the crowd reaction?”
Becky: “Joe, there’s obvious confusion down here on floor level. Let me see if I can get a comment. Excuse me, Sir? Sir? Yes, you. Could you give us a crowd reaction?”
Man: “Well, I’m not sure I know just what’s going on. I got his first point outlined, then an orderly transition, then bang — right into an illustration. But an illustration of what? We don’t know what his second point is.”
Becky: “Do you think he might be using a new innovation called ‘inductive point development’?”
Man: “‘Inductive point development’? Never heard of it. Maybe it’s something new they’re doing at seminary. In my day it was, ‘Tell ’em what you’re going to say. Say it. Tell ’em what you said.’ I don’t know. I hope he knows what he’s doing.”
Becky: “Thank you for your comments, Sir. Joe, you can tell we’ve got some uneasy listeners down here. Back to you.”
Joe: “Hey, hold on a second … what’s he saying? Al, did you get that?”
Al: “Yes, Joe. Brilliant. Just Brilliant. He was using that new ‘inductive maneuver.’ Let’s get that on slow motion replay. There. There, see. He uses the preliminary material in that second point to raise curiosity, then, whammo, he let’s ’em have it. Whoa. That’ll send some preachers scrambling.”
(Dr. McClure continues, moving into his third point.)
Joe: “We’ve got to break for a commercial and then on to the conclusion of Dr. McClure’s message.”
Joe: “Here we are back live at convention center where Dr. William McClure is just wrapping up his sermon. Al, how do you see it?”
Al: “This McClure is really something. On the one hand, he’s so predictable. Then, out of the blue, he throws in something completely new. Like during his conclusion tonight, he just walked away from the podium. A first for Boomin’ Bill. He’s four, maybe five feet to the left of the podium. Now, what’s he doing down there, Joe?”
Joe: “Becky, you’re down there close. Can you tell what’s going on?”
Becky: “Joe, this is absolutely stunning. Dr. McClure, Boomin’ Bill, just sat down on the edge of the platform, maybe three or four feet above the floor. He’s got one of those little lapel mikes and he’s talking in not much more than a whisper. He’s telling a story from his childhood. He’s giving a ‘Garrison Keillor, Prairie Home Companion’ touch. Believe me, he has got ’em by the ears down here. They’re hanging on every word.”
Al: “See what I mean. This guy usually ends up in an emotional bombast. He pulls out all the stops. Here he pulls a reverse and runs with the whisper. Wow. You’ve got to admire this guy.
“Here’s what happened, (draws a diagram on the screen over a replay of the action.) Boomin’ Bill starts out behind the podium, then moves to his left, one step, two, maybe five steps. Then, forward to the edge of the platform and he sits down, bang! Just like he was having a chat in his living room!”
Joe: “That’s right, Al. You could hear a pin drop in this giant convention center with thousands of people in attendance. What is it, Al? This fella’s got it. You know we’ve done all the big conventions: politicians, bankers, doctors — but we hear the best here. No matter what their presentation style, they all pack a knock-out punch. How do they do it?”
Al: “Joe, they’ve all got style, but you’ve got to admit, they work with great material. It’s worked thousands of years and it just keeps on knocking ’em alive.”

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