Extracts from “Preaching from the soul” by J.E Kalas

KalasIt was like a refresher course in preaching. Reading it was a breeze. It was well-written with good analogies and metaphors that stimulated and enlightened. The author  was President and now senior Professor who trains seminary students at Asbury Theological Seminary in preaching. The book’s content was established, old school stuff and he gave his personal perspectives on them, Preaching from the souldrawn from years of experience and reflection. Nothing earthshaking or radically new, nothing trailblazing or controversial. Even so his writing style has a way of drawing you in to eat and drink from its pasture and still waters. It is a good read for  experienced preachers: reminders, ideas to work with for fine-tuning and polishing and motivating us to excel in our craft and ministry. It’s available in Trinity Theological Library. Here are some extracts from the book that will give an idea of what’s inside.

Soul preaching happens when the speaker seeks to deliver not only a message, but his or her own soul, and to deliver it in such a way that it reaches the soul of the hearer. The speaker is communicating ideas, insights, and convictions, but all of these are marked by the quality of the speaker’s own soul. As a result, soul preaching is intensely personal, because it comes from the soul, the innermost totality of the speaker, with the intention of reaching that same innermost place in the hearer. Such preaching is inherently passionate. (2003. 10, 11)

No better thing can happen to our preaching than having a passionate love affair with the Bible. This isn’t easy for us preachers. We suffer the burden of familiarity, and in most cases (as a seminary professor, I hate to say it), we also suffer the burden of an education. We become too bookish about the Book, so that we see it as a source of sermons and studies, and we are more taken with problems of scholarship than with the wonders of its continuing power. (2003. 19)

That’s the way we preachers must always feel. There must be in us something that reaches out to people in general, yes, but specifically to these people sitting before us as we step into the pulpit. This reaching out makes a communicator. It is almost impossible to preach effectively to people unless there is something in us that reaches out to them. (2003. 31)

The title should set the boundaries for the sermon. Or to put it another way, the title should remind the preacher, all through the process of preparation, where the sermon is going, so that he or she will be able to lead the congregation to the promised land of the sermon’s purpose. (2003. 44)

In any event, a preacher must not seem dependent on notes or manuscript in the opening several minutes. This is no time for looking down; it is the time for direct, eye-to-eye communication, for a feeling of immediacy and intimacy, because it is here that the preacher and the people begin to establish their relationship. If the preacher is tentative, or more taken with manuscript and notes than with the people, the relationship is put at a disadvantage. (2003. 56)

A good sermon ought to have the feeling of progress. This feeling is easier to bring about in a narrative structure, but it is still essential in a linear sermon or a line-by-line exposition. It is the feeling that the sermon is going somewhere. It is not simply a collection of facts and illustrations, but facts and illustrations that proceed with some kind of logical progression. (2003. 69)

In biblical narrative sermon, the struggle comes at the outset, as you seek to find the plotline for that particular sermon. Once you get hold of that wondrous thread, it will likely lead you on almost beyond your will. Novelists often say that they don’t know how a story is going to unfold until they see what their characters do. So too with a narrative sermon; frequently it carries you to places you hadn’t imagined. The linear sermon, on the other hand, is quite easy at the outset. Outlines require only limited imagination, though some proper refining. Then you begin the search for illustrations, quotes, supporting material. In a narrative sermon, most of this data is implicit in the plot itself. However, the search for the plot can be disheartening, no doubt. (2003.76)

In the pursuit of a cohesive theme, search for the meaning in each phrase. Still better, look for the soul in each passage. When you find the insight that warms your soul, chances are good that it will warm the souls of those listening. In the process, you will also be somewhat protected against the tedium that can slip easily into line-by-line exposition. This is related to knowing what interests people- which in most cases has to do with where their needs lie. (2003. 81, 82)

Don’t signal that the end is coming. When the preacher says, “I close with this,” or “Just one more thing,” you have divided the listener’s focus. Instead of concentrating on what you’re saying, they begin to think of what they’re going to do when the sermon ends. (2003. 88)

The conclusion that finds its theme in the title and introduction blesses both the preacher and the listener. For the preacher, it simplifies the search for closing material by narrowing the field. For the listener, it makes the sermon more compact, more focused, and thus easier to remember. (2003. 91)

(Reference:  Kalas, E.J. 2003. Preaching from the Soul. Nashville, TN: Abingdon.)

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