I am still struggling a little bit with what I think of my week in Nashville at the Festival of Homiletics about three weeks ago. I am glad I went…but I am having trouble articulating why. The types of churches represented were significantly more progressive/liberal than the churches with whom I normally associate. That is neither good nor bad…it just is. There was heavy emphasis on the lectionary texts for next year. Since I don’t preach through the lectionary, that was of much less interest to me than it might be to most. It is always hard to go to something like this by yourself. Most of the people there either came together or were from the same denominations (Methodist, Presby, Lutheran, Episcopalian primarily) and either knew each other or had common friends or seminaries, etc. So it was hard not having someone with whom to debrief what I was experiencing and hearing.
The caliber of the preaching was very high. The number of preachers who have been rated as some of the best in the nation was phenomenal. It was kind of a who’s who of progressive preachers today. A 1996 Newsweek article in my files gives a list of the 12 “most effective preachers” as named by Baylor University. Of the twelve, five were at FOH (Fred Craddock, Thomas Long, James Forbes, Barbara Brown Taylor and William Willamon. The others–FYI–were Walter Burgardt, Billy Graham, Llolyd Ogilvie, Haddon Robinson John R.W. Stott, Charles Swindoll & Gardner C. Taylor). You add in Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Calvin Miller, Will Campbell and Walter Brueggemann and you have a pretty all-star cast. It was very inspirational just to be there and to hear great preaching. I didn’t want to miss a session, not simply because the church was paying my way, but because it was with very few exceptions outstanding preaching.
But when I got home people ask, “Will we see a difference in your preaching because of your time there?” I don’t know. I hope so. But I am not sure. Perhaps they will simply because the bar has been raised. Perhaps they will because it has piqued my interest in diving into more reading and research (and blogging) on preaching. I think that the preaching/teaching at FOH has encouraged me to delve into parts of scripture (more Old Testament and parables) than I have done recently. I also know that FOH has encouraged me to address more social issues from the pulpit. In combination with a Craddock CD set that I purchased at FOH, I was encouraged to use more stories and improve in my storytelling ability. I also came to realize the importance of narrative in people’s lives and the importance preaching plays in framing that narrative for people.
But it is not like there were lots of great tips and techniques shared (although there were a few. For example I was impressed with the use of repetition in Vashti Murphy McKenzie’s sermon. Find a phrase and then play with ways it applies and repeat it with the phrase). I think one of the things that I most appreciated was great preaching that was not the typical evangelical and fundamentalist preaching I am accustomed to hearing. It was articulate, biblical, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and almost always challenging. There were times that the liberal theology got a bit old, however. I sometimes felt like a fish out of water. I know that the emphasis this year was on prophetic preaching, but that is what I needed to hear. It was also good to hear the affirmation (I think from Brueggemann) that prophetic preaching does not equal social action. It may result in it, but it is not the same thing.
I think the best thing about the FOH was the renewed passion for preaching (and GOOD preaching) that it stirred up in me. I would say that it was simply “Good for my soul.” For that reason alone, it was worth my time.