Preaching Through a Pandemic? Read These Four Books

Preaching Through a Pandemic? Read These Four Books

The last four months have undoubtedly raised new questions for pastors, questions about ministry in general, and the tasks of ministry in particular. One of the most pressing questions for me has been about preaching. In my specific context, we’re emerging from fully digital worship to a hybrid with outdoor, in-person worship, and a livestream for those who need to maintain social distancing. Another significant change is the need to include children as part of the hearers of my preaching since we are no longer offering children classes during the sermon. What should my preaching look like? How must I adapt to this new situation? How do I think about who I am preaching to? And what might I say to people in this strange season of life?

Fortunately, I am not facing these complicated questions on my own. Four books, kindly sent by their respective publishers for review, have provided wisdom for these odd times.

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Accidental Preacher

I took Will Willimon’s introduction to ordained ministry class in my first semester of divinity school. Pastoral ministry was not on my radar; and I’d never heard talk of ordination until student orientation, when I discovered nearly everyone was seeking ordination but me. Will wrote a chapter for Kent’s book Sanctified by Grace, which I copyedited. So, I signed up for his class because I thought, “If Kent likes him enough to invite him to write for his book, he ought to be pretty good.” Will did not persuade me into pastoral ministry. In fact, he wound up being the professor who signed off on me switching from a Master of Divinity to a Master of Theological studies, as I flailed about unsure of what God was calling me to do. So, in some sense, I suppose you could call me an accidental preacher, which is also the title of Will’s memoir. We are kindred spirits in that regard.

Will’s memoir is filled with honesty, joy, humor, and rich theological and pastoral insight. For those who have listened to Will for any length of time, his sarcasm is predictable and his grace is abundant. Most of all, this memoir is a testimony to the God who refuses to stay an arm’s length from any part of the world God so loves.

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Weekender: June 10, 2017

Weekender: 06/10/2017

Welcome to the weekend! Each week, we like to offer a few quick highlights from our week that we think will give you something worthwhile to think about over the weekend. Enjoy this week’s Weekender and add to it in the comments below!

Quote Worth Repeating: “It hardly needs to be argued that “kingdom” is a political term; the common Bible reader is less aware that “gospel” as well means not just any old welcome report but the kind of publicly important proclamation that is worth sending with a runner and holding a celebration for when it is received.” By John Howard Yoder in The Politics of Jesus (Eerdmans, 1994), p. 28.

Blog Post to Read: In “How Karl Barth Preached the Gospel in a Time of Crisis,” Walter Brueggemann reviews A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth’s WWI Sermons (translated and edited by William Klempa). “Barth’s time was indeed a ‘unique time of God.’ But Barth would surely have said that every sermon is a unique time of God. Beyond historical interest, these sermons invite reflection on preaching in our own context of crisis.”

Speaking of Walter Brueggemann, have you signed up for Homebrewed Christianity’s giveaway yet? Click here to enter to win TEN books by the highly acclaimed Old Testament scholar. (You will be redirected to Homebrewed Christianity’s website.)

Video to Watch: Some weeks, I need a reminder that God is good. This song takes me back to my time in Durham, worshipping with the folks at City Well UMC. Enjoy!

Questions to Ponder: In a review of two books about the pastors and ethics, I asked “How should we preach against racism in our congregations?” While we need to answer that question according to our own contexts, I think the insights could be valuable. How have you addressed racism in your own congregation? Whether in preaching, teaching, counseling, or activism?

Recent Posts on Theology Forum:

  1. Don’t Say Nothing: Preaching and Racism by Zen Hess
  2. A Pentecost Prayer by Zen Hess
  3. We Are Always Beginners: Barth on Discipleship by Kent Eilers

Weekender: April 22, 2017

This is the first of a weekly post we are calling “Weekender.” It is a collection of things worth thinking about. Think with us or add to the list in the comments.


Quote: “Nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense.” From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Theology Forum’s Kent Eilers recently published an essay, in the winter edition of the journal CRUX, reflecting on how God is imagined in Lila, one of Marilynne Robinson’s other books.

Blog Post to Read: “What’s Right With the Church” by Doug Haney on Will Willimon’s blog. This readable post gives a practical, positive approach to congregational ministry.

Interesting Insight: Sermon content is the “major reason” why 75% of Americans go to church, according to a recent Gallup Poll.

Fortunately, there are many great resources to help us reflect on what it means to preach faithfully. Recently, I (Zen) have been captivated by the collected sermons of Ellen Davis, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Hans Boersma. Others on Theology Forum have written about preaching too. Check out some of those posts here.

Surprisingly, good music comes in pretty far down on the list.

Questions: I spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, IN) for their annual “Rooted and Grounded” conference. There were many thoughtful and provocative papers and conversations. So, questions this week are related to some of those presentations. If you’re interested in considering these questions more deeply, Wipf & Stock recently published a collection of selected essays from the conference’s inaugural year.

  • How does a congregation nurture sustained attention on and engagement with the practice of creation care?
  • Is the pulpit the appropriate place to address climate change or related matters? Why or why not?
  • What responsibility do contemporary Christian’s bear in making reparations for their tradition’s participation in historical sins? (Mennonites at the conference, for example, were raising this question related to Mennonites complicity in exiling indigenous peoples from their lands in northern Indiana.)
  • Do certain ways of reading Scripture lead to a more natural acceptance of Christian responsibility for caring for God’s creation? Do other ways lead to a greater resistance toward proactive care for the environment?
  • What are ways that we can practice evangelism that do not repeat the historical sin of colonialism?

Enjoy your weekend!