Archive for June, 2013

Teaching Preaching

by   |  06.25.13  |  Ministry, Preaching

I love preaching. I preached my first sermon when I was 13 years old. The congregation allowed me to preach any Sunday night I wanted as long as our preacher read every sermon before I preached it. One deacon drove me to nearby towns so I could preach.  Others in the congregation affirmed and encouraged me. And because of my home church, I heard my calling. My home church birthed and fostered my love of preaching.

I admire good preaching. I spend more time thinking about preaching than any other subject. And I am thankful that ACU gives me the opportunity to teach preachers how to preach; to be able to help students grow in their professional and personal identity.

While I teach in a school, preaching cannot remain in a laboratory. Preaching is not a “solo performance” or a “spectator sport.” Preaching is a communal activity. One voice cannot be the only voice that reverberates for the whole community. Preaching involves listening to the many voices that make up the Body of Christ. Listening does not lead to fragmentation or a discordant cacophony, but through communal discernment, pastoral care, and context awareness, preaching becomes a living witness to God’s activities among the congregation. In dialog with Scripture, Church, and Community, a new and living word is possible. Otherwise, preaching is mere talk about the same old things in the same old ways.

And preachers develop different styles and voices. My primary objective is not to force preachers to preach like me but to find their own homiletical voice. Even I do not preach with the same style to a congregation of 2000 as I do to a congregation of 20. A Metroplex preacher will sound differently than someone from the east coast. Someone with a teaching voice may exemplify one way of doing the task while someone else uses a testimonial voice. Preachers come in all different shapes and sizes. And the church needs them all. While I might compare and contrast those styles so that my perspective is clarified, I’m not seeking to dilute or deform anyone’s gift or cast suspicion on another’s faith. My primary gift to teaching preaching is my ability to hear the what and how of the homiletical moment. I might even critique a famous preacher like Craddock or Willimon, but only for the pedagogical objective of letting the student’s own homiletical wings take flight. I might through hyperbole swing the pendulum one way, but only so the student can intentionally choose the arc their own style will swing.

So, how do people learn to preach? The short answer is: “They just do.” However, people do not “just do it.” They have to “figure it out,” to “get the feel” of preaching for themselves. William Willimon compares the teaching of preaching to the teaching of woodcarving and the making of biscuits.
So there’s a sense of which I still don’t know a lot about teaching preaching. I mean, I realize that seeds are planted – were planted in me – which didn’t bear fruit until years later. I realize that it’s more like learning how to carve wood than it is a technique of first you do this, second you do that. You’ve got to get the feel of it. You have to – it’s more like learning to make biscuits than it is how to write an essay on something. (personal correspondence with the author)

Learning “how-to” is more easily and safely negotiated if it is not undertaken alone. Let’s take biscuits for example. Studying a cookbook or watching an infomercial does not miraculously produce master chefs. Total recall of principles and propositions that follow the recipe line-by-line will not necessarily produce melt in your mouth biscuits. Somehow, the “knack” is missing. But when Grandma stands over your shoulder, another experience all together occurs.

Good preaching pays attention to the rubrics governing exegesis, interpretation, and communication. But knowledge of exegesis, hermeneutics, and rhetoric do not themselves produce good preaching. Some unschooled people (like the apostles) seem to “know in their bones” what preaching involves, while some educated people seem never to learn and are a pain to endure.

As students mature in Christ, they become authentic persons who have passion, conviction, and character. This is not done overnight nor through a set of classes arranged in the curriculum. It begins with the parents in the home and in collaboration with the Christian community, the church. Students develop spiritual disciplines that mold them into people of character. And throughout the process, models and mentors play a vital function. In this sense, the church gives birth to preachers. The teacher functions merely as a midwife for what the church has conceived. And the student preacher, will be given back to the church for service and continued growth.

Preacher education does not stop with a diploma. Continuing education, exploration, innovation within a changing culture, continued growth in actual experience in the life of the church, needs to be cultivated. Older ministers will function as mentors, wise elders will shepherd, and gracious congregants will patiently draw forth the best. The life-long journey of becoming a preacher is always an unfinished work that requires continued construction.

I love preaching because I love preachers and I love the church.


New Book Released by ACU Press

by   |  06.19.13  |  Uncategorized

The Effective Practice of Ministry:

Essays in Memory of Charles Siburt


 Effective Practice

Tim Sensing, editor

ISBN 978-0-89112-328-6

306 ppg

$25.00+ shipping, tax (if appl.)

Few people have made a larger contribution to the ongoing life and health of Churches of Christ around the world than Charles Siburt. During his twenty-four years at Abilene Christian University, Siburt oversaw some fifty DMin theses–a capstone experience designed to recount best practices in congregational life.

Rooted in Dr. Siburt’s conviction that good theology makes a difference in the lives of people, The Effective Practice of Ministry is a collection of thirteen of those research projects, covering the most critical topics facing churches today: spiritual formation, leadership development, catechesis, preaching, and missional initiatives in the larger community.

In honor of Dr. Siburt, this anthology is meant to inspire and encourage effective, embodied praxis in the ministry of the church.

About the Editor

Tim Sensing (DMin, PhD) is Associate Dean and Professor of Homiletics at the Graduate School of Theology, Abilene Christian University. Tim co-taught with Charles Siburt the project thesis course for the DMin degree from 1999 to 2012. Tim is also the author of Qualitative Research: A Multi-Methods Approach to Projects for Doctor of Ministry Theses.

– See more at ACU Press

The Effective Practice of Ministry

by   |  06.19.13  |  Contextual Theology, Ministry

Effective PracticeRecently, the Christian Scholars Conference hosted a luncheon to honor the memory of Charles Siburt. The new release by ACU Press, The Effective Practice of Ministry: Essays in Memory of Charles Siburt was presented to Charles’s family, Judy, John, and Ben.
     The conviction that theory and practice are divided has some ardent supporters. Sometimes it is all about who you footnote to support a hypothesis. And when you can footnote Aristotle as an advocate, you tread cautiously when you disagree. The theory practice divide is in our bones. The theory practice divide is part of our DNA. In many times, in various places, and in multiple ways, the theory practice divide is assumed. And that which is assumed, is taken for granted, unarticulated, and unquestioned. Amnesia leads to silence. That which is assumed is forgotten.
     Then along comes a man like Charles Siburt. He saw the harmony between theory and practice. He did not see the “either/or” side of the polarities but the “both/and” landscape that resides within congregations. Theology is not merely the pursuit of an intellectual vision but a compelling account of a way of life in God. Beliefs and practices are intertwining functions. Miroslav Volf talks about all this in terms of “belief-shaped practices” and “practice-shaping beliefs.” To separate the two, if possible at all, is to do a disservice to both. Theology is to be known, lived, and experienced by a particular community. For Charles, his academic career was profoundly interconnected in the local life of the church. To know Charles in the academy, was to know Charles in the Church.
     And this is how Charles Siburt saw the effective practice of ministry. Ministry is not just a set of skills but a way of seeing the world and a way of being in the world. Charles was a bricoleur, an artisan, or a kind of professional do-it-yourself person who used tools and skills from multiple sources to produce a bricolage, that is, a pieced-together, close-knit set of practices that provide solutions to a problem in a concrete situation. The bricolage changes and takes new forms as different tools, methods, and techniques are added to the puzzle. He was like a general contractor who refurbishes older homes. There is no telling what one will find when you look between the studs, above the ceiling, or under the floorboards. Yet the general contractor will be able to diagnose and prescribe a beautiful and workable remodeled home. Charles was often called the “Church Doctor.” He drew upon a vast array of specialties in order to cure, prevent, and promote health within a particular congregation. He was like a virtuous Gregory House of Fox TV fame that specialized as a virtuoso diagnostician. While Charles saw more ugliness in the church than one should, he loved the church. When others were tempted to give up, Charles saw the church as a glorious place of God’s activity partnering with saints. As an academic in the seminary, Charles applied theory to practice everyday for the sake of the church. He refused to treat congregations as places to be reduced to a template or stereotype. He declined to talk about theology in the classroom without a case study, example, best practice, or lived experience.
     The contextual nature of theology saturates the pages of The Effective Practice of Ministry that defines not only the chapters, but also the life and ministry of Charles who affected each of the authors in powerful ways. And it is with great pleasure that all the contributors of the volume dedicate this book to Charles Siburt the contributors to this volume esteem Charles as their trusted friend, mentor, and teacher.

Faith Community Research Project

by   |  06.05.13  |  Ministry

Recently I was asked to speak to a gathering of Elders in Dallas on the topic, “What are young people looking for in a church?” It’s a good question. I understand why they are asking the question. They look around their Sunday assemblies and they see less and less twenty somethings in attendance. And the question is not all about—”How can we be more attractive? How can we be the cool church in town?” No, no, —I believe the question from these Elders comes from a deep desire to serve, a conviction that the future of the church is dependent on raising the next faithful generation.

  • Their question is similar to John Westerhoff’s question, “Will our children have faith?” Or, as it is sometimes rendered, “Will our faith have children?” It is a good question. “How can our church be more attentive to the faith of the next generation?” “When the next generation looks to the church, will they come to faith?”
  • To answer the question, I decided to conduct my own original research. I sent out a survey via the web (see the link below). My primary question is, “Why do you or do you not participate in a faith community?” I plan to answer the Elders in Dallas by giving voice to the twenty-somethings. In their own words, this is what they want Elders to hear. And it is only after we have listened, will we know how to respond. Now, like most researchers, whether they confess it or not, I have a bias. My bias is optimistic. I am hopeful. And I believe the word that comes back to these Elders in Dallas will edify them. [2 weeks; 250 responses; and my bias so far is holding steady].

The question remains for all of us no matter your age, “What are you looking for when you come to this place on any given Sunday? What do you hope to See? Hear? What do you expect?

The link for the survey is here.

Eventually, the results will be presented at the November 2013 ElderLink. Additionally, I intend to publish the results in various venues.

I welcome your participation. Forward the link to your friends and family. Post the link on Facebook. Tweet the link to the world. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, I hope the question builds momentum.

Peace, Tim Sensing