Editor: William J. Carl III
Publisher: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. Pp. xi, 193.
I want to express appreciation to Presbyterian Publishing for this book.
For those who are in the ministry, you will find Best Advice packed with gems of wisdom from some of the leading preachers/pastors in the country. After I started reading, I couldn’t stop reading this wonderful book. It is a compilation of 30 short essays from pastors. Since I am in ministry, I have found this one of the most useful books to help guide me in my pastoral ministry and preaching.
Some of these are distinguished authors and teachers of homiletics: Will Willimon, David Buttrick, Fred Craddock, Thomas Long. Some are professors of preaching: Ronald Allen, William Carl, Jana Childers, Mary Lin Hudson, Cleopas LaRue, Jennifer Lord, John McClure, Alyce McKenzie, Marguerite Shuster, plus Dawn Wilhelm. Some are authors like Eugene Peterson, plus many are pastors who share from their experience in ministry.
I like what David Buttrick says “no-holds barred” concerning preaching as a craft:
“…be concerned for craft. Not art, but craft. There have been books on “the art of preaching.” Skip them. Preaching is a craft to be learned like carpentry or cooking. Ego-driven self-expression is not what’s wanted. We can live without polished sermons, the kind that draws admiration from listeners. A good sermon moves in the minds of listeners like their own thoughts. They are not aware of your sermon as separate from their hearing. They certainly don’t give a hoot for aesthetic considerations; neither should you. Instead, you will study homiletic craft” (p. 35).
I whole-hearted agree because I have heard some sermons that were very aesthetically pleasing to the ear, but do not seem to make much sense. I’ve come out of the service wondering: “What in the world did the preacher just say?!” To this, I say: “Amen.” I’d prefer a well-crafted sermon that makes sense, rather than, one that sounds good but does nothing for my inner spirit and soul.
Fred Craddock recommends every pastor to deliver what is called the “Signature Sermon,” about once per year. It is appropriate for every congregation. Concerning this, he says:
“It gathers up in one message what the preacher believes, what the congregation believes, and what the historic church believes, framed in such a way as to remind, inform, correct, and call to a new level of discipleship. It will be a bit longer than other sermons that interpret a particular biblical text or topic and urge a particular response… The Signature Sermon marks a path through the woods and makes clear this is who we are, whence we came, whither we go, and why we are here.”
He advises the reader to be prepared for requests for copies, and that quotations and allusions to the Signature Sermon will appear regularly in church school classes and fellowship conversations.” This was the first time, I have heard of this. The signature sermon is definitely I will try in the future and turn into a personal tradition (p. 53).
Joseph L. Roberts, Jr. gives fourteen points regarding conduct of a pastor. Everyone is sound and I’ve already implement some of them in my life.
Eugene Peterson tells of his search for a once-upon-a-lifetime fantasy church “as beautiful as Tirzah” (Song 6:4); however, he realized that this was an adolescent fantasy. He says:
“I would be a witness to the Holy Spirit’s formation of congregation out of this mixed bag of humanity that is my congregation—broken, hobbled, crippled, sexually abused and spiritually abused, emotionally unstable, passive and passive-aggressive, neurotic men and women…spirited young people, energetic and eager to be guided into a life of love and compassion, mission and evangelism; a few seasoned saints who know how to pray and listen and endure; and a considerable number of people who pretty much just show up. I wonder why they bother. There they are: the hot, the cold, and the lukewarm; Christians, half-Christians, almost Christians; New Agers, angry ex-Catholics, sweet new converts. I didn’t choose them. I don’t get to choose them” (p. 132).
Peterson taught me this is what the church is—a hodgepodge, a mosaic of our society—that is the church today assigned to us by God to shepherd and lead in the way of my master and lord, Jesus Christ. I think if I am prepared for this, I’ll know what to expect in the future and not be disappointed by a garden of roses amongst a pasture of weeds, or a garden of weeds amongst a pasture of roses. Either way, it is from God and it our responsibility, as pastors, to tend to this mixed patch of garden work.
Professor Miguel A. de LaTorre deals with racial diversity and pokes hard at our prejudices. One paragraph really grabbed me and hit me hard. He says:
“Why,” I asked, “do you assume I would even want to worship at your church? After centuries of exclusion, why should I come running now that you think it makes your church look good by having a black or brown face in the pew to prove that your congregations aren’t racist?” My questions were not very well received. Nevertheless, I went on to say that it was difficult for me to pray while sitting next to the banker who will charge me an extra point of interest because my last name sounds Hispanic. It’s hard to shout praises to the Lord while being stared at by the police officer who gave me a ticket for driving under the influence of being Hispanic….it is unlikely that I, and I suspect most believers of color, will pretend to forget what goes on outside of the church building and just come on in” (p.58).
De LaTorre asks to be a righteous people who acts justly. I believe this is what the Holy Spirit is calling us to be and to do, as believers in Christ, who live in awe of our holy God.
This book has much more wisdom than this. I have only quoted from four essays and there many more golden and colourful gems of advice from 26 other pastors. This is a book I am sure I will pick up again when I am feeling a need to soak up some pastoral wisdom. It is on my bookshelf labelled “very useful book” under Practical Ministry. Our thanks go to Rev. William J. Carl III for compiling the fine essays in this book.