Category Archives: preaching

The Pilot and the Preacher

On multiple occasions, I have attempted piloting a virtual aircraft with a computerized flight simulator.   Although these have taken place in different places, environments and contexts, they have all ended with the same predicable result – virtual destruction.

Unlike the perceived simplicity of flying, it is a complex reality with complicated instruments, controls, aerodynamics, gravity, weather, etc.  What on the surface seems simple is, in reality, quite complex.

As someone who has preached regularly for years, I’ve learned a number of important things in the process.  I want to share them here using the metaphor of piloting an airplane.

Flight Check List
Any pilot, when preparing for takeoff and the upcoming flight, has to meticulously prepare for the journey.  They file flight plans, check gages, brief their crew, study their plane, know the weather, etc.  They meticulously prepare!  The same must exist for the preacher.  The biblical communicator must know the Scripture he/she is preaching from (biblical exegesis), interpret it effectively (hermeneutics), study their unique context (cultural exegesis), and consider the best possible route for their sermon (methodology), etc.

To preach meritoriously, one must prepare meticulously.  

Air Traffic Control
When a pilot prepares for take off, is in flight and prepares to land, he/she must be in constant communication with air traffic control.  The same must be true for preachers as they pray before, during and after the preaching journey they take with their congregation.

To preach effectively, one must pray endlessly.

Take Off 
One of the roles of an effective pilot is to prepare the travelers for take off, telling them to buckle up and preparing them for the journey ahead.  The same is true for the preacher.  As the preacher prepares to take off, they must communicate to the congregation, and prepare them for the journey.  This will be different depending on the preaching methodology used, but the same principle exists regardless.  The effective preacher invites the congregation to enter the journey ahead with preparation, expectation and anticipation.

I must be noted that the pilot, as with the preacher, is only effective if he/she knows his/her passengers, understands them and even, I would suggest, includes them in the planning and preparation for the journey ahead.

To preach commendably, one must commence communally.

Aware of Passengers
As a pilot constantly keeps aware of the state of his/her passengers through the journey, the same must be true of the preacher.  As the preacher journeys through the content of the message, he/she must keep the congregation engaged and aware.  This is not to suggest that the goal is to keep the passengers comfortable but the preacher must be constantly aware that he/she is not taking this journey alone!

To preach well, one must know and be aware that they are not on a solo flight.

Sometimes a pilot will have to fly through turbulence and when they do, it is helpful and imperative to have people put up their tray tables, buckle-up, and prepare for the rough, and often uncomfortable, ride ahead.  The same is true for preachers.  There will be times when the preacher will preach through difficult texts and/or difficult topics.  When this is the case, it is helpful to let people know what is coming, to be prepared for it and journey through it together.  Personally, I have found I can preach on very difficult topics if I prepare the congregation for it.  If I let them know that turbulence is ahead, there is, in my experience, a collective desire to work through it together, allowing the opportunity to pilot through difficult passages and topics together.  This is where I find it helpful to remind the congregation that we, together, submit to God’s authority and discern truth together in community under the leading of the Holy Spirit.

To preach successfully, one must preach through turbulent topics securely.

For pilots, the one area that is often the most challenging, memorable and exciting is the landing.  If there is going to be a problem, there is a good chance it will be in the landing.  This is the area where, in my experience, most preachers struggle.  In many cases, preachers look to approach the runway and land “on a wing and a prayer.”  They pour hours of preparation into the take off (introduction) with the false assumption and fleeting hope that the landing will take care of itself.  Good preaching should end the journey of the sermon with a distinct ending that calls for a response and leads to mission.

To preach sufficiently, one must land the sermon steadily.

It is my usual practice to do a benediction at the end of the service.  This is when I give a charge to the congregation as they engage the world on mission.  I always end by calling people to “GO in peace” because, like a pilot who greets people as they leave the plane, I know as people will engage their world, the scripture we journeyed through will collide with their circumstance in challenging ways.

To preach effectively, the exit is engaged intentionally.

When it comes to preaching there are different kinds of pilots with different piloting skills and abilities.  Some are stunt pilots who are extraordinarily gifted in their ability and people come in droves to see them in person or download their podcasts.  In addition, there are private pilots who faithfully serve smaller churches as well as commercial pilots who serve larger churches.  All follow the same process with different contexts and all have vital importance.

If you preach… Keep learning.  Keep growing.  Try new things.  Get better at your craft, art and skill!

If you are a member of a congregation… Recognize that what might seem easy is, in reality, quite complex and, like flying a plane, when done well is not just a skill but also an art form that takes years of practice.  Therefore, pray for your pastors, encourage them and invest in them!

Social Media Church Podcast

Last week, I had the privilege of being on the Social Media Church Podcast with DJ Chuang.  We had a great conversation about the effectual nature of social media and how it is/will effect preaching.  It was great talking with DJ and, subsequently, with members of his audience via Twitter.  I sense a healthy and growing awakening around this conversation, affirming my direction for my doctoral dissertation and further writing and research around this topic.

If you are interested in the conversation I had with DJ, I’d encourage you to visit the Social Media Church Site and listen to it there.  Even better, leave a comment on their site and start a conversation around this topic.  I would love to hear what you are thinking and practicing.

Preaching in the “Age of Anxiety”

Introduction & Preamble
Through a series of blog posts over the next several years, my hope is to explore part of the research I am doing for my Doctorate of Ministry degree (DMin) through George Fox Seminary (I’m in the Semiotics and Future Studies Track).  I am, specifically, studying the effects of social media on preaching with the hope of creating a methodological response to this cultural shift that is historically aware, theological grounded, biblically rooted and culturally contextual.

Before you read my first post: Preaching in the Age of Anxiety,” I confess upfront that I am a “media ecologist.”  In other words, I believe media is not neutral but effectual.  I also confess that I am a “hopeful new media ecologist” because I am not anti-media.  Therefore, my desire is the critical adoption and appropriate use of technology, while being aware of its effect and inevitable impact on the message.

Preaching in the “Age of Anxiety”

Original drawing of Icarus by
Nathanial Ashlin-Mayo

Greek mythology tells of the myth of Icarus, the son of Daedalus, the great Athenian craftsman (the attached artwork is from my artistic son Nathanial).  While King Minos held them captive in Crete, Daedalus fashioned wings made from wax and feathers to escape their imprisonment and fly to freedom.  In this mythical tale, Daedalus warns Icarus not to fly too close to the sun or the wax will melt (an ancient warning regarding the limitations of technology).  In the Greek narrative, Icarus ignores his father’s warning and pays the consequence by being lost at sea.

We exist in a great time of technological transition where media is having tremendous effects on how we communicate, relate and interact with the world around us.  To that end, if we continue to use our old methodologies, assumptions and presumptions, we will, proverbially, fly too close to the sun with our man-made constructions resulting in devastating consequences.

Our world has radically shifted: transitioning from the Guttenberg world to a Google world.  These two worlds are very different and this shift is having drastic and revolutionary effects on culture at multiple levels.  Continuing to fly with old world methodologies in a new ecology will, progressively, lead to devastating effects; just as it did for Icarus.

Marshal McLuhan warned:

“Innumerable confusions and a profound feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transitions. Our “Age of Anxiety” is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools–with yesterday’s concepts.”  (Medium is the Massage, 8-9)

Our world has, is and will continue to change in a substantial way and I sense this phenomenon occurring specifically in the field of homiletics (preaching).  I believe we need to learn the lesson from the Greek myth of Icarus. If, as communicators of God’s Word, we decide to try to communicate to today’s world using yesterdays methodologies, it will not only lead to anxiety, the proverbial warming wax, but that wax will inevitably melt and our effectiveness will be lost in the ocean of irrelevancy.

I believe that understanding media and its effects are profoundly important for the future of preaching.  As Marshal McLuhan also stated:

“It is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the workings of media.” (Medium is the Massage, 8)  

Most pastors, including myself, have a tendency to enter the homiletic act with presuppositions based on former questions, presuppositions and assumptions. These questions, presumptions and assumptions were designed and based on a culture and society that once was, rather than now is.  I think this tendency is largely due to an ignorance regarding the seismic change that is occurring culturally around us.  This change is ubiquitous and will effect everything – including preaching.

It is my thesis that social media (informational technology’s teenage child) is rapidly and exponentially changing culture on a global scale.  In the dominion of homiletics, people do not enter the preaching relationship (as the congregation) with the same presumptions, assumptions, questions, etc., than they once did. This has changed and is perpetually changing as we move through this major tectonic shift in culture.

If we desire to be effective biblical communicators in our new world, we must be aware of the changing landscape (understanding our changing culture) and be willing to take different means of transportation towards our desired destination (methodologies).

Through future posts I will explore these related questions…

  • What we can learn through the history of technology/cultural change and how it affected preaching as a result?
  • What it means to preach to a generation of content producers rather than media consumers?
  • What does it mean to preach in a participatory culture?
  • How is information technology changing the way we think?
  • How the message (presentation) of the Gospel is re-shaping and why this isn’t bad (the message we share now was largely shaped during the last technological/cultural shift (Guttenberg).
  • What it means to communicate in a non-hierarchal culture – your degree and ordination does not mean what it used to.  What now grants you authority and why? 
  • Preaching in an image-based culture.
  • And many more….