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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"One Year to Better Preaching" (Daniel Overdorf)

TITLE: One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills
AUTHOR: Daniel Overdorf
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2013, (320 pages).

After seminary education, many preachers will have to learn on the job and to fine-tune their preaching skills either by themselves or to learn from within a small pool of people within their own church. Few have the chance to go back to Bible school for re-training or re-energizing their skills. In such situations, this book presents a valuable opportunity to improve one's preaching without having to take a long leave of absence. In fact, with 52 exercises, preachers can basically continue their preaching in their congregations and to improve along the way. The exercises are meant not to substitute but to supplement, even help hone in important pointers for preaching the Word of God. Designed in a way that encourages preachers and learners to preach and learn with fellow preachers, the exercises are supplemented with prayer, listening skills, honest feedback, fresh ideas for old strategies, and some new material for the modern audience.

All the exercises in the book have practical exercises with a single aim: honing on one specific preaching skill, technique, or thought at a time. The following are ten of my favourite exercises:

  1. Balancing the Biblical Diet: Learning to preach from a broad base of Biblical books is important. The exercise reminds me again that I need to be reminded to check back at my own selection of Bible verses, to ensure that they are well balanced and not too lopsided to any one book or testament. 
  2. The Three Different Listening Skills: People listen differently. In fact, preaching is not only the task of the person at the pulpit, the listeners are big participants in the whole preaching ministry too. I have long known that different people will appreciate different things at different times. This book gives a very solid overview of the three main groups of listeners: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. They are basically listeners spurred by inspirational content or delivery, personal relationship with the preacher, and the ideas in the sermon respectively. 
  3. Multisensory Preaching: The part about using the five senses is helpful as it helps the preacher avoid overdependence over any one sense. It is humbling in a way because when we utilize our other less used senses, we are forced in a way to depend on God, that God is able to reveal Himself through his Word using not only our strengths but also our weaknesses.
  4. Communicate in E-Prime: This is a call to choose stronger verbs that are more direct and personal. For instance, use "empowers" instead of "be empowering." Replace passive with active voice. This is a big challenge for me. Many writers work often in the passive mode. Those at the pulpit must go beyond toward active.
  5. Listen to a Storyteller: One of the most important parts of sermon giving is in telling stories. We all need to learn and to master the art of stories. This is what keeps a sermon away from boredom. It also helps listener to remember well. What better way than to listen to master storytellers themselves. I appreciate the valuable resources that the author has given .
  6. Collaborate with Other Preachers: While preaching can be a lonely exercise, it need not necessarily remain that way. We can collaborate preaching and sermon ideas with other preachers. 
  7. Hang the Sermon on an Image: In an increasingly visually stimulated world, we find modern listeners relate better with images and film. Not only will that make sermons more vivid and clear, it helps listeners remember better. 
  8. Design Careful Transitions: This is one of my greatest needs. In fact, the difficulty rises when it comes to sermons with multiple points. We will learn about the 5 different transitions
  9. Go to Work with a Church Member: This is about trying to live in the listeners' world more, in contrast to living in our own preaching world. In a way, this is extremely helpful as it forces us to move away from our own literary and study world into the real world.
  10. Read Fiction: Wow! I needed this. I have been reading lots of books, many of them non-fiction. This is a reminder again that if I want to preach and tell stories well, I need to have a more balanced diet.

There are many more precious pointers that preachers will appreciate. Not only are they extremely relevant, even challenging, they are put together by a well respected and reputed preacher himself. Of course, my top ten lists will change from time to time. That makes this book a very vibrant one to keep and to refer to.

So What?

Preachers are never fully formed. They are gradually being transformed. Most for the better, few for the worse, especially for those who have the heart to try and to keep trying. Preachers must also be learners and practitioners. Like the saying, practice makes perfect, while there are no perfect preachers, there are opportunities for all preachers to move and hone their skills to perfection, if not close to perfection. This is where this book comes in. With 52 practical and very insightful exercises, any preacher or preacher to be will find it a good training material to work with and to improve one's preaching skills. The key word here is "exercise." It means that the book cannot be simply read and then kept aside on the bookshelf. Instead, it needs to be opened up, and our hearts be taught by the Holy Spirit to learn and to improve. Just after the first 3 chapters on reading this book, I was sold.

I am reminded of the power of prayer. I am reminded to think beyond the preacher's world into the listeners' world. I am reminded to have a broad base of preaching ideas to maintain. I am also reminded to make a beeline for the Cross in every sermon. Actually, you do not need 1 year to be a better preacher. Just by putting into practice any one of the 52 exercises will already set any preacher toward becoming a better preacher. This is a must have for preachers!

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Kregel Academic without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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