Should those of us who sit in the pews every Sunday morning bother to learn about homiletics? After all, it is a very fun word to say. It’s like a potato chip, you can’t say it just once. I dare you to try…
But back to my question, if I know that I am never going to stand behind a pulpit and deliver a sermon, why would I want to learn about how to deliver a sermon? Well, my first answer would be, “So that I can identify a good sermon.” This is the responsibility of the parishioner. We see that the Jews in Berea were commended for their discernment skills when listening to Paul’s preaching. “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
So as lay people (that phrase always sounds weird to me), we first need to know Scripture well. We at least need to have the ability to discern for ourselves whether or not the teaching coming from the pulpit is true. There are many false teachers out there! This takes spending regular time in God’s Word, as well as prayerful dependence on his Holy Spirit.
But we don’t just want to sit under a true sermon every week. We want to sit under good sermons. What makes a sermon good? And how do we receive it well? The study of homiletics is helpful here. A lay person need not be an expert in homiletics, but we should have some insight on the construction of a good sermon, shouldn’t we?
So every now and then, I read a book for pastors. I want to know what stresses they face, what is expected of them, and how they are encouraged to persevere. This, of course, goes beyond homiletics, but it is all related. It’s kind of like finding a husband. If I am going to submit myself under the preaching of God’s Word, then I am responsible to make sure I am with a good man, per say.
So where do we begin? I highly recommend Dennis Johnson’s book, Him We Proclaim. Johnson makes a case for apostolic, Christocentric preaching by studying the apostles themselves. He particularly refers to Paul, Peter, and the preacher to the Hebrews to teach how this should be done. What is the purpose of preaching? What should it accomplish? What part of the sermon is God’s Word and what part is the word of man? How does that work? How is the sermon effective? What exactly does the office of preaching entail? Is there a difference in preaching from the Old and New Testaments? How do you preach law and how do you preach grace? What is the structure of a good, biblical sermon? We need to know these things as discerning members of the church to make sure we are in the right place, and to help encourage our pastors.
Johnson’s book has helped me to be a better active listener of sermons. It has also helped me in my Bible reading and teaching. Homiletics does not only matter for the pastor. Have you read any good books on homiletics that have been a benefit to you as a parishioner? Are you a pastor who would encourage or discourage this practice? What should a parishioner know about homiletics?