The past year has produced a number of outstanding volumes on preaching. (Mark Johnson’s review, beginning on page 12, surveys many of these.) Given the high quality of so many titles, how can one book be singled out as the “book of the year” for preaching?
James Earl Massey’s newest book, The Burdensome Joy of Preaching, is being recognized as the 1997 Preaching Book of the Year for several reasons. One is for its practical value and encouragement to those who preach. Another reason is that the book offers a unique vantage point to “listen in” on the insights of one of the nation’s most gifted teachers of preaching.
Massey has been preaching for nearly half a century, and over those decades he has become a gifted communicator, an able teacher, and a sincere friend to preachers. A frequent speaker at the National Conference on Preaching, he is always a favorite of participants, not merely because of his quality contributions but also because of his sincere and encouraging spirit.
The Burdensome Joy of Preaching grows out of material developed for a series of lectureships at prestigious seminaries in recent years. Massey begins by dealing with the inward side of preaching. Preaching is audacious because it presumes to speak for God. It makes sense, then, that a sense of calling would be paramount. One can only speak for God with divine authorization. There is nothing that can encourage preachers any more than to know that God has called and equipped them for this task.
If the inward side of preaching focuses on the preacher’s soul, the outward side focuses on the benefit of preaching for the souls of others. Four key sub-themes that Massey develops are perceptions, meaning, style, and involvement. The point of a preaching ministry is to allow the message to be heard by those to whom we preach. Key to being perceived as having the listeners genuine best interests at heart, is being viewed as God’s representative. This, too, flows from a sense of calling upon our lives. Massey states, “The adequate resources [the anointing] makes available to us are the validating marks of Christ’s presence with us.” Preaching’s outward side is most effective when it is characterized by love for those to whom we preach.
At its best, preaching builds community, particularly the community of faith. Massey states, “The miracle of community happens within the rich context of sharing, when both the preacher and the hearers match in eagerness, earnestness, trust, openness, and regard.” Preaching should flow out of the life of the preacher who is open to the congregation and whose life matches the proclamation he is presenting. Massey calls for authenticity and integrity in one’s proclamation.
While there are some who strongly discourage any mention of personal anecdotes in the pulpit, Massey affirms “opening to the hearers’ view some pertinent aspect of one’s own experience with life and truth.” Rather than merely holding up one’s life as an ex-ample, Massey points out that revealing one’s own weakness, struggles, and foibles — particularly when dealing with a potentially controversial topic — may create new openness in the hearers to the truth.
Authentic preaching has an eventful quality to it as well. An eventful person is defined as one whose actions influenced subsequent development along a different course that would have happened otherwise. Preaching becomes eventful when the preacher has been utterly mastered by the text. Massey asserts that we become eventful preachers by cultivating patient togetherness with people, by earnest prayer that keeps us oriented to God, and by the diligent application of ourselves in careful study of God’s word.
James Earl Massey is indeed an impressive figure. His dignified persona, Christian grace and preaching and teaching experience offer much to preachers who come after him.
Massey is Dean Emeritus and Distinguished Professor-at-Large at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, IN. He is former senior pastor of Detroit’s Metropolitan Church, and former Dean of the Chapel at Tuskeegee University in Tuskeegee, AL. He has preached and lectured at more than a hundred colleges and seminaries around the world. He sits on the editorial boards of Christianity Today and Leadership, and is a member of Preaching’s Board of Contributing Editors.
Those who meditate over the themes he raises in The Burdensome Joy of Preaching will find their pulpit effectiveness enhanced.

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