When Peter McGeary reviewed this book for the Church Times, he wondered that the writer thought she had written a book which was just about preaching.
He was right. It is more than about preaching. Or perhaps it would be more truthful to say that I wrote this book from a sense that either all Christians are called to be preachers, or that being a preacher, or being any kind of Christian, requires that we become more fully ourselves, the persons we really are.
We only become fully ourselves when we know that our life begins and ends in God and when we are prepared to engage with God at the deepest level of our consciousness. The purpose of preaching, and my purpose in writing this book, is to help people arrive at an awareness of their belonging to God. So if the book has a sub-agenda this, briefly put, is it.
I also wrote the book in the belief that preaching itself matters. The Church’s teaching ministry is one of the most important gifts it has to offer those who come through its doors. The Church fails these people badly when sermons are either boring or an exercise in parading knowledge, or in self promotion of one kind or another, which is also boring. The task is therefore to meet people in their pain, fear and, above all, in their need for God. But this is not something the preacher can do in his or her own strength, drawing on their own spiritual or intellectual resources. They must meet them from within their own life in God.
With these ideas in mind the book reflects on the preaching task over eight chapters. The first looks at the way the Church itself is changing, because society is changing. This is inevitable and necessary. But the Church is also losing sight of its true calling which is to ‘en-vision’ God for its people and for the times we live in. Instead, it is rapidly falling into a state of semi-idolatrous self contemplation and anxious ‘management’. Partly as a result of this, people are losing faith in the institutional Church altogether. They are happy to talk about spirituality, but they don’t ‘do God’, largely, I would argue, because the politics of the institutional Church reveal it to be wholly incompatible with the God it purports to believe in. Part of the preacher’s task lies therefore in delivering what the Church is called to be – the love of God at work in the world and in people’s lives.
To this end, the book explores how the preacher is called to be a certain kind of person, rather than a person with a set of skills. Chapters 2 to 4 look at the search for meaning and healing, and at preaching as public theology. The following chapters return the reader to more practical considerations. While placing the discussion within the parameters of the first 4 chapters, I cover such essentials as what is entailed in becoming an effective communicator, engaging imaginatively with text, dealing with our own emotions and, lastly, a few practical suggestions, gleaned from my own theatre training, in how to become a confident preacher.