Jeter, Joseph R., Crisis Preaching: Personal and Public. Nashville: Abingdon. 178 pp. Paper. ISBN 0-687-7392-8.
Ministry is the work of dealing with crisis. It’s good, fitting and necessary to plan a preaching program which moves the church toward the fulfillment of its vision. What do you do, though, when the sermon you planned on is finished by noon on Friday and that weekend there is an automobile collision which takes the life of 3 teenagers in your community? How do you respond when 2 gunmen kill 12 students, themselves, and one teacher and wound many other classmates? How should one respond when a terrorist bomb takes the lives of 169 people, many of them children, as it did in Oklahoma City in April 1995? Crisis events and the teachable moments which come with them, by definition, show up unannounced. The fact that crisis events show up unannounced does not mean that the preacher cannot be prepared to deal with them, however.
Joseph R. Jeter, Jr. teaches preaching at the Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, TX. While one cannot have a stock “teenager killed in accident” sermon, and another for the assassination of a government or civic leader, there are theological understandings and homiletical rationales that the wise preacher will have at the ready when called upon to shepherd his or her people through a crisis event.
Jeter does an effective job of naming the different types of crises which a preacher may be called upon to preach through. There are personal crises in which the preacher attempts to teach the congregation by dealing homiletically with crises in his or her own life. John Claypool’s advocacy of confessional preaching grew out of the terminal illness and death of his young daughter. There are also public crises such as the aforementioned Oklahoma City bombing and the Kennedy assassination. Then there are congregational crises such as the death of a beloved leader, scandalous revelations about a member of the ministry staff, or tensions which threaten to divide or to split the congregation.
Jeter refers to these crises also as crises of understanding and crises of decision. Crises of understanding deal with the concept of theodicy — why do bad things happen to good people? In such circumstances, presence and remembrance are essential. Through preaching, allow those who are suffering to know of the presence of God and to remember His faithfulness in the past. Crises of decision involve guidance in those times when there is uncertainty in the direction one should take with his or her life. A key motif here is pilgrimage. In whatever decisions are made, remember that we are on pilgrimage with God and these decisions can draw us closer to Him.
The task of the preaching ministry, over the long haul, is to build a faith which is big enough to stand against tragedy and disaster. This implies that there can be no quick-fixes to traumatic events. While an immediate response to a cataclysmic disaster is required, that is only the beginning of long-term response to a crisis event.
The strength of the book is in its section on homiletical strategies for dealing with crisis. The steps he lays out are determining whether we are in fact dealing with a crisis, naming the monster, creative lamentation, what Jeter refers to as “God’s wagons,” what we may also refer to as God’s providence and the need for continuity and courage. The imagery of God’s wagons comes from the story of Joseph. Joseph’s brothers had no idea that when they sold him into slavery, the wagons which took him down to Egypt were the instruments of God’s providence — they would place Joseph in a position to stave off world-wide famine. The desire for continuity is interesting as well. It may be that in a crisis situation, rather than focusing specifically on the crisis, what is really needed is the continuity that comes from sticking with a lectionary text or a sermon which is a part of an on-going series. Such continuity helps the worshippers to see that life does go on.
Also of value is a “lectionary” of sorts which provides suggestions of biblical passages which may speak to the crisis through which one is trying to preach. Of course, no such book would be complete without model sermons. Jeter includes an array of sermons from different preachers speaking to broad issues of crisis. A wise preacher will read this book and give thought to how to deal with crisis before it arrives.
Ezell, Rick. Hitting a Moving Target. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999. 176 pp. ISBN 0-8254-2528-x. 176 pp. Paperback. $10.99
Rick Ezell knows what it is like to preach to a parade. While some of us are called to minister in sleepy, little stable towns others of us are called to places where we preach to a different congregation every 3 to 5 years without changing churches. Ezell is the pastor of the Naperville Baptist Church of Naperville, IL. In spite of the fact that there is constant turnover in the congregation, the church has seen consistent growth throughout Ezell’s 11 years there as pastor. Ezell quotes church consultant Lyle Schaller, also a resident of Naperville, as saying that one in Naperville must be careful about presenting new projects to the church. People will vote for them because they know that they probably won’t be around to have to pay for them.
In Hitting a Moving Target, Ezell provides several exercises and tools which may be used to assess congregational needs and to enable one to preach more effectively. He lays out an approach “to gather, document, and utilize readily abilable information” so that one may speak relevantly to the needs of those in the congregation.
It is no secret that our society is transient. It is unusual indeed for a person to live their entire life in one community. It’s not unusual for children to grow up with their grandparents being several states away. In an average American community today, 40 to 60 percent of a town’s population leaves every ten years. With such constant turnover, how can one build and sustain church growth?
One answer is by preaching that meets people’s needs. If there is much transition in a community, there is much stress for the person who moves and for those left behind who see friends and faithful church members leaving at a rapid pace. Moving ranks behind only the death of a spouse, divorce and retirement in terms of stress. Although there is much change and stress in transient communities, there are issues that are true of those people who move into a certain community.
Playing off of the image of “hitting a moving target,” Ezell uses the image of a target so that preachers may learn more accurately how to “hit the bull’s eye” in their preaching setting. He moves from assumptions one can make about the culture in general, to data one can gather about the specific area or community in which the church is located, data one may research and know about one’s own congregation. The information one may gather about a community is readily available. It includes information such as median age, socio-economic strata, and other religious groups which are represented in the area.
One may narrow the focus on his or her own congregation simply by asking them about their needs, concerns, hopes, wishes and fears. One means of doing this is simply to administer a congregational survey. It has been said, “One who consistently shoots over the head of his target audience does not prove that he has superior ammunition. He only proves that he is a poor shot.” The congregational survey furnished in this book will help a preacher more accurately understand the people to whom he or she preaches.
As one who has recently been called to a church in suburban Washington, DC — a very transient area — I am thankful for a helpful resource like Hitting a Moving Target: Preaching and Communicating to a Church in Constant Transition. I intend to use the tools offered by Ezell. I do have one point of irritation, however. Whether it is author’s choice or editorial direction, there seems to be a reluctance to use the word “preaching” in this book. “Preaching” is not a bad word. There is a difference between “preaching” and “public speaking.” Irritation notwithstanding, I commend this book highly.
Killinger, John. Preaching the New Millennium. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 158 pp. ISBN 0-687-08737-6.
There is disagreement over exactly what the new millennium will bring. Some prophets of doom tell us that at midnight on December 31, 1999, our computer systems will go haywire and power, transportation, water, and food supply systems will be disrupted because of the Y2K bug. There are other “prophecy experts” who tell us that question will be moot because the Lord will return by then and usher in His Millennium.
John Killinger attempts to plant some seeds in preachers’ minds so that they may do their best preaching ever during this moment in history. Though the millennium is an artificial construct — life on January 1, 2000 (or 2001 if you prefer) will not be dramatically different from life on December 31, 1999. Yet, there is the anticipation of a moment in time which will usher in an era that will be radically different.
As evidence of the power of a new millennium, Killinger traces the history of the last turning of a millennium. There are few sermons extant from that time due to difficulty in copying and reproduction. Killinger argues that as we stand on the brink of a new millenium, there is an opportune moment that preachers can miss if they get bogged down in the minutiae of day-to-day programming. To ponder the meaning of a new millenium, we need only reflect over the accomplishments of the past millennium.
People are experiencing the full range of emotions as they enter a new millennium. One couple, in commenting on fear of the unknown says, “The only thing that gives me hope is my assurance that God is dynamic and sufficient for every era and generation.” Others will face a new era with sadness and depression over opportunities lost in the old millennium and fear of the unknown in the new millennium. Others will look forward to the clean slate that is provided by the passage into a new era. It will be like a New Year’s Day raised to the 1000th power. Kill-inger makes the case that sometimes, it is the occasion or the era that “makes the preacher.” It may well be that the millennium will provide opportunity for preachers to rise to the occasion.
Killinger identifies several themes which seem particularly relevant on the brink of the new millennium. They are creation and creativity, life is a journey, the biblical concept of the Jubilee in which all debts will be forgiven, a return to the tabernacle which symbolized the movable presence of God with His people, new life and the cross, and sacrifice and service. More than offering a homiletical “how-to,” Killinger suggests themes that can be explored at this moment in history.
The best work in the book comes when Killinger discusses the spiritual life of the minister. As one preaches the possibility of a new life, a new beginning and a new era, doesn’t it make sense that one should give new attention to their spiritual life as well? Killinger gives an excellent discussion of how hazardous “professional Christianity” can be to private devotion.
It is difficult to imagine this book having a long shelf life. It is targeted to preaching to one brief moment in history. Even still, there may well be some thoughts in this book that needed to be said. Good preaching interprets the times in which we are living in the light of God’s Word and God’s promises. Killinger suggests themes and offers models of how to do that.
Book Notes
J.N. D. Kelly, Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 310 pages, paper, ISBN 0-8010-2210-x. $19.99.
John Chrysostom was one of the great preachers of the early centuries of the Christian church. Dubbed “golden mouth” by his fourth-century contemporaries because of his brilliant and moving preaching, John was a fascinating Christian leader and a worthy subject of study for those interested in the great preachers of the past.
This excellent biography was first published in 1995 by Cornell University Press, but is now available more readily to a popular audience in this recently-published Baker edition. J.N.D. Kelly is retired from his role as Principal of St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, and University Lecturer in Patristic Studies. (Michael Duduit)
Peter Rhea Jones, Studying the Parables of Jesus (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1999), 378 pages, paper, ISBN 1-57312-167-3.
Peter Rhea Jones is a former professor of New Testament who has served for many years as pastor of First Baptist Church in Decatur, GA (in suburban Atlanta). A lifelong student of the parables, this volume is an excellent survey that combines scholarly insight with a preacher’s touch.
The book features both textual analysis and interpretive insights which will be useful to any preacher who is preparing to preach from such a biblical passage. (Michael Duduit)

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