Second in a series on preaching

Second in a series on preaching

WARNING: This is a post primarily for preachers. Readers who are not preachers most likely shall be bored beyond belief, because this is “shop-talk” about the art and craft of preaching.


Continuing with David Buttrick’s Homiletic: Moves and Structures, here are a few more words of advice. If I had to sum up what Professor Buttrick advises below in one sentence I would say: Keep your sermons short and simple or KISS. The advice to keep them short may be debatable however—especially among preachers who do not celebrate Holy Communion on a regular basis. Moreover, maybe a sermon needs to be longer, not shorter to increase the listeners’ opportunity to actually retain 35 percent of it. J I do wonder about the source(s) of Buttrick’s research, which he fails to cite. I also wonder how researchers do know what they say they know regarding their research—i.e. what methods do they employ and are they reliable? That said, his advice in using the 5,000 word vocabulary rather than the erudite 12,000 word one does have wisdom. Preaching is about communicating the Gospel clearly in order that folks listening really do hear and/or encounter Christ in the preached word.

Research indicates that in a reasonably good sermon, only about 35 percent of the language will be functional; the rest will have suffered instant erasure, dropping out of consciousness almost as soon as it is spoken. While such deletions are usually the result of weak starts and finishes to moves or, possibly, a lack of point-of-view control, some erasures are caused by regrettable language patterns. So, if we are to achieve, at minimum, a 60 percent retention of language, we will have to sidestep some common pitfalls. Also, it is thought that the graduate from seminary has about a 12,000 word vocabulary. Whereas an average congregational member will have a vocabulary of about 7,500 words. However for oral speaking you can reduce the common shared vocabulary of a congregation to about 5,000 words. The language of preaching should be the vocabulary of everyday conversation. Remember, the vocabulary of the New Testament’s koine Greek is not much more than 5,000 words. Unless we are eager to parade erudition, the limited vocabulary of preaching need not disturb us. Moreover, when we speak of important moments, the profound if often troubling moments in our lives, we invariably revert to simple words—i.e. the words we learned in the first 5 years of our lives. Slang words and phrases, if used in shared, everyday language can be used in sermons.

 To be continued…