Author Topic: Sermongate  (Read 2583 times)

Charles Austin

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #30 on: July 13, 2021, 09:30:45 AM »
Beloved spouse, when we were attending church where the pastor tended to have false endings, would ask me when we  left “how many endings in that sermon?” She said she can sometimes tell by the deep sighs I would emit as things moved to an end, and started up again, then ended, then started.
Retired ELCA pastor. Iowa born. Back home from Sioux City after three days and a pleasant reunion of the East High School class of - can you believe it! - 1959.

Daniel Lee Gard

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #31 on: July 13, 2021, 09:56:56 AM »
Samuel Johnson is credited with saying, “Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”

Dan Fienen

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #32 on: July 13, 2021, 10:27:21 AM »
I can remember as a child some Sunday dinner reviews of the sermon for that day. "The pastor sure missed some good opportunities to say, "Amen.' "
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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #33 on: July 13, 2021, 10:37:45 AM »
In my senior age, I think that I am preaching sorter sermons than I did when younger. I average between 13 and 15 minutes, occasionally but rarely as much as 18. This past year I have also become more aware of the length of my sermons. I am in charge of processing the raw recorded footage of service for posting on line. That includes dividing the service into three segments, Opening and Readings (from opening announcements through the sermon hymn), Sermons, and Prayers (the rest of the service after the end of the sermon). So I can easily see the length of the sermon.


I upload the service recording to Vimeo and email links. Internet service out here in the hinterland is sometimes slow so it seems advantageous to divide the service into more easily downloaded segments for viewing. After all, as VP Harris so kindly pointed out, here in rural America we don't even have easy access to Kinko's (not that even city dwellers have been able to use Kinko's for some years, they having been bought out.)
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peter_speckhard

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #34 on: July 13, 2021, 10:47:12 AM »
A sentence should have a beginning, middle, and end. I've never liked that theory because it doesn't help. Are struggling students turning in sentences with no beginning, middle, or end? Not really. They're turning in sentences and paragraphs with bad and/or unrelated beginnings, middles, and ends. The real difficulty with prose is flow. What connects the beginning, which is by definition there even in the worst sentence, to the middle, which is also by definition there? Does the ending make some point worth making that flows from the combination of the beginning and the middle? Or is it simply the last few words that happen to be there?

An aspiring artist asks, "How can I draw a good portrait?" He receives the response, "A good portrait has a top, a middle, and a bottom." Or, "Young composers, hearken to me: to write good music, be it a commercial jingle or a symphony, you need to make sure it has a beginning, a middle, and an end." Wow, that really clarifies things for me! The writing theory of beginnings, middles, and endings has always struck me as akin to the joke about Michaelangelo saying be began with a block of marble and then chiseled off everything that didn't look like David. True, in a way, but hardly helpful. You can't hand a manuscript back by saying, "I'm sorry, this paper has no beginning." Of course it does. It just has an abrupt, unclear, or boring beginning. Fixing that is not a matter of saying it needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. The paper also has a middle, possibly a redundant, contradictory, or irrelevant middle, but a middle nonetheless. Again, it doesn't need a middle, it needs a worthwhile middle.

Of course, I get the point being made by the whole "beginning, middle, end" theory of sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and works. But addressing disorganization this way leads to overly-formulaic speeches. Sometimes an abrupt ending drives a point home, other times several rephrasings and repetitions drive it home. Sometimes a good beginning sounds like launching into the middle and picking up a story as though it is ongoing. "Fred was hanging for dear life, clawing at the rim of the canyon, when he realized..." Other times telling people what you're about to tell them works better as a beginning. "I'd like to tell you about how important it is to realize that every day may be your last. To do so, let me first offer you the example of Fred and the day a near death experience opened his eyes to..." But to recommend a beginning, middle, and end does little more than advise the speaker, "First, starting talking. Then, keep talking. Lastly, stop talking. See? Making a speech is easy!"   


Dave Benke

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #35 on: July 13, 2021, 10:55:57 AM »
I can remember as a child some Sunday dinner reviews of the sermon for that day. "The pastor sure missed some good opportunities to say, "Amen.' "

Great stuff.  I've always wondered what produces that instinct to tack on the second through fifth ending.  I still don't have an answer that makes sense.

Dave Benke

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #36 on: July 13, 2021, 10:58:35 AM »
A sentence should have a beginning, middle, and end. I've never liked that theory because it doesn't help. Are struggling students turning in sentences with no beginning, middle, or end? Not really. They're turning in sentences and paragraphs with bad and/or unrelated beginnings, middles, and ends. The real difficulty with prose is flow. What connects the beginning, which is by definition there even in the worst sentence, to the middle, which is also by definition there? Does the ending make some point worth making that flows from the combination of the beginning and the middle? Or is it simply the last few words that happen to be there?

An aspiring artist asks, "How can I draw a good portrait?" He receives the response, "A good portrait has a top, a middle, and a bottom." Or, "Young composers, hearken to me: to write good music, be it a commercial jingle or a symphony, you need to make sure it has a beginning, a middle, and an end." Wow, that really clarifies things for me! The writing theory of beginnings, middles, and endings has always struck me as akin to the joke about Michaelangelo saying be began with a block of marble and then chiseled off everything that didn't look like David. True, in a way, but hardly helpful. You can't hand a manuscript back by saying, "I'm sorry, this paper has no beginning." Of course it does. It just has an abrupt, unclear, or boring beginning. Fixing that is not a matter of saying it needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. The paper also has a middle, possibly a redundant, contradictory, or irrelevant middle, but a middle nonetheless. Again, it doesn't need a middle, it needs a worthwhile middle.

Of course, I get the point being made by the whole "beginning, middle, end" theory of sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and works. But addressing disorganization this way leads to overly-formulaic speeches. Sometimes an abrupt ending drives a point home, other times several rephrasings and repetitions drive it home. Sometimes a good beginning sounds like launching into the middle and picking up a story as though it is ongoing. "Fred was hanging for dear life, clawing at the rim of the canyon, when he realized..." Other times telling people what you're about to tell them works better as a beginning. "I'd like to tell you about how important it is to realize that every day may be your last. To do so, let me first offer you the example of Fred and the day a near death experience opened his eyes to..." But to recommend a beginning, middle, and end does little more than advise the speaker, "First, starting talking. Then, keep talking. Lastly, stop talking. See? Making a speech is easy!"   

I would say the theory - beginning, middle, end - is the foundation.  If you don't think that structure, you can't relax it.  I am one of the more relaxed guys in that regard because my sermons are conversational, and often involve response from the listener during the message.  But - formless is not the way to go, and the function of enjoying 15 minutes with the Word follows that form, which is a difference between preaching and bible study.

Dave Benke

Dan Fienen

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #37 on: July 13, 2021, 11:22:52 AM »
I was fortunate to study homiletics under the great late Dr. Gerhard Aho. He instilled in us an appreciation for a good outline for our sermons, a Lively Skeleton as one of his works called it. With a good outline a sermon is not just a bunch of good ideas, illustrations, aphorisms, and anecdotes more or less stuck together, but a structured whole. Perhaps this is where Pr. Benke's beginning, middle, and end is headed. With an outline in mind, the preacher knows where he is headed in the sermon. The beginning can be more than just a starting place, but be chosen with the destination in mind. The middle can be a structured progression to lay out, in an orderly and sensible fashion, the heart of the matter. And the ending ties it all together, rather than just being a final ramble, attaching whatever comes to mind.
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Dave Benke

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #38 on: July 13, 2021, 11:30:58 AM »
I was fortunate to study homiletics under the great late Dr. Gerhard Aho. He instilled in us an appreciation for a good outline for our sermons, a Lively Skeleton as one of his works called it. With a good outline a sermon is not just a bunch of good ideas, illustrations, aphorisms, and anecdotes more or less stuck together, but a structured whole. Perhaps this is where Pr. Benke's beginning, middle, and end is headed. With an outline in mind, the preacher knows where he is headed in the sermon. The beginning can be more than just a starting place, but be chosen with the destination in mind. The middle can be a structured progression to lay out, in an orderly and sensible fashion, the heart of the matter. And the ending ties it all together, rather than just being a final ramble, attaching whatever comes to mind.

Agreed.  Gerhard Aho - top shelf.

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Charles Austin

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #39 on: July 13, 2021, 11:58:30 AM »
There is an article in an upcoming issue of Lutheran forum journal that addresses some of these and other points on preaching.
Now would be a good time to subscribe.
Retired ELCA pastor. Iowa born. Back home from Sioux City after three days and a pleasant reunion of the East High School class of - can you believe it! - 1959.

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #40 on: July 13, 2021, 12:40:09 PM »
I've stated in the last few years that writing a sermon is deciding what not to say. If one has done the proper homework (biblical exegesis, contemporary issues, needs of the congregation,) there's way too much stuff for one sermon. More than once I've looked at a paragraph I've written (I use a manuscript,) and concluded, that really isn't on topic or help the theme, and delete it. (I can't say that I often do that in this forum. :) )


The use of a manuscript helps me know how long the sermon will be. I also began printing up copies of the sermon. I began this when an elderly lady, who was hard of hearing, asked if I could do that. She said, "What I hear of the sermons is really good, but I I don't hear all of it." (She also always sat in the back of the church.) Printed copies has also allowed people to pick up sermons for weeks that the missed attending worship. One lady grabs one before the service and follows along, writing down notes.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

peter_speckhard

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #41 on: July 13, 2021, 12:47:51 PM »
A sentence should have a beginning, middle, and end. I've never liked that theory because it doesn't help. Are struggling students turning in sentences with no beginning, middle, or end? Not really. They're turning in sentences and paragraphs with bad and/or unrelated beginnings, middles, and ends. The real difficulty with prose is flow. What connects the beginning, which is by definition there even in the worst sentence, to the middle, which is also by definition there? Does the ending make some point worth making that flows from the combination of the beginning and the middle? Or is it simply the last few words that happen to be there?

An aspiring artist asks, "How can I draw a good portrait?" He receives the response, "A good portrait has a top, a middle, and a bottom." Or, "Young composers, hearken to me: to write good music, be it a commercial jingle or a symphony, you need to make sure it has a beginning, a middle, and an end." Wow, that really clarifies things for me! The writing theory of beginnings, middles, and endings has always struck me as akin to the joke about Michaelangelo saying be began with a block of marble and then chiseled off everything that didn't look like David. True, in a way, but hardly helpful. You can't hand a manuscript back by saying, "I'm sorry, this paper has no beginning." Of course it does. It just has an abrupt, unclear, or boring beginning. Fixing that is not a matter of saying it needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. The paper also has a middle, possibly a redundant, contradictory, or irrelevant middle, but a middle nonetheless. Again, it doesn't need a middle, it needs a worthwhile middle.

Of course, I get the point being made by the whole "beginning, middle, end" theory of sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and works. But addressing disorganization this way leads to overly-formulaic speeches. Sometimes an abrupt ending drives a point home, other times several rephrasings and repetitions drive it home. Sometimes a good beginning sounds like launching into the middle and picking up a story as though it is ongoing. "Fred was hanging for dear life, clawing at the rim of the canyon, when he realized..." Other times telling people what you're about to tell them works better as a beginning. "I'd like to tell you about how important it is to realize that every day may be your last. To do so, let me first offer you the example of Fred and the day a near death experience opened his eyes to..." But to recommend a beginning, middle, and end does little more than advise the speaker, "First, starting talking. Then, keep talking. Lastly, stop talking. See? Making a speech is easy!"   

I would say the theory - beginning, middle, end - is the foundation.  If you don't think that structure, you can't relax it.  I am one of the more relaxed guys in that regard because my sermons are conversational, and often involve response from the listener during the message.  But - formless is not the way to go, and the function of enjoying 15 minutes with the Word follows that form, which is a difference between preaching and bible study.

Dave Benke
Agreed that the structure has to be there even to allow for variations and that the structure doesn't have to show or be overt in order to be doing its job. The speaker can improv or digress as long as he knows where he is going with it and it is worth taking people there. My point is that "beginning, middle, end" isn't really a structure, it is a statement of the obvious that describes bad works as accurately as it describes good works. Nineteen pages of stream of consciousness ramblings about the squirrel out the window have a beginning, middle, and end.

I think the structure needs to be stated with something more specific like Invitation+thesis (that's the beginning-- why should the listener care about the topic and what is the speaker's point about that topic?), argument+examples (that's the middle-- does the listener understand the point and is he convinced of the truth of the point?), and application+summary (that's the end-- what practical difference does the point make in the hearer's life, followed by a short recap for the sake of retention.) Depending on the length, the "so what"/application could be a separate, fourth section before the summary.

Granted, such a structure doesn't apply to all writing, certainly not fiction, but it does apply to speeches of any sort. This kind of structure is actually helpful in trying to transform a bad sermon or speech into a good one. The question is not whether it has a beginning, but whether the beginning it has invites the hearer to care about what follows and has some point to make. As for the middle, yes, it might be full of examples and anecdotes, but is this or that example merely a cute story, or does it help people understand the point via illustration?

You can skip straight to the thesis for shock value and then backtrack to introduce the topic more thoroughly. "Abraham Lincoln was the worst president we've ever had! Now, I know many of you may be offended by that thesis, but when you consider all the presidents and they various ways they're responded to the particular challenges of their respective eras, perhaps what shines through most consistently is..." That is a beginning that reverses the standard order of Introduction/thesis for effect. To be a good beginning, though, it would still have to invite the listener to care about the topic and thesis, which it can best do by foreshadowing the application/summary.  In a five page manuscript, what needs to be on page 1 is the invitation to care about the topic and the thesis. What needs to be on pages 2-4 are supporting arguments and examples, and what needs to be on page 5 is some kind of application and summary.

Fwiw, I think Invitation is a far more helpful header than Introduction. "My report is about George Washington," is a bad introduction to the topic. "We can only understand where we are by knowing where we've come from, and some of the most important but often invisible aspects of our society, things we have long taken for granted but continue to do so at our peril, stem from precedents set by the genius and wisdom of our first president," introduces the topic in a way that at least tries to invite people to care about the topic. When it comes to sermons, I think the danger for pastors is to take for granted that people care what we have to say. They should care, of course, but they often need a little help. "For my sermon today, I would like to take a closer look at the parable in our Gospel reading..." presupposes that everyone is awaiting with bated breath. And if they really do "hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it" they probably are. But a lot of people aren't there. If the preacher is using a manuscript, that introductory sentence is not worth typing out. Children writing book reports with a minimum word count type out such sentences. "Jesus hid three beautiful gems in a seemingly simple story," introduces the topic in a way that invites people to care and keep listening. 

Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #42 on: July 13, 2021, 01:07:31 PM »
In my senior age, I think that I am preaching sorter sermons than I did when younger. I average between 13 and 15 minutes, occasionally but rarely as much as 18. This past year I have also become more aware of the length of my sermons. I am in charge of processing the raw recorded footage of service for posting on line. That includes dividing the service into three segments, Opening and Readings (from opening announcements through the sermon hymn), Sermons, and Prayers (the rest of the service after the end of the sermon). So I can easily see the length of the sermon.


I upload the service recording to Vimeo and email links. Internet service out here in the hinterland is sometimes slow so it seems advantageous to divide the service into more easily downloaded segments for viewing. After all, as VP Harris so kindly pointed out, here in rural America we don't even have easy access to Kinko's (not that even city dwellers have been able to use Kinko's for some years, they having been bought out.)

Just took some averages of my last five sermons, curious about the lengths. Average was a little over 15 minutes. But one Sunday was only about 10 minutes---a communion Sunday. The longest sermon was 18 minutes.

This past Sunday I preached from Amos 7. In the message I briefly explained the use of a plumb bob and line. Afterward one of the members commented that he already knew what those were. (I didn't need to explain them.) In contrast, one of the women thanked me for explaining what they were because she did not know! I think this pretty well illustrates how differently people hear our messages. Thank God for empathetic hearers who are patient with their preachers and one another.
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Dave Benke

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #43 on: July 13, 2021, 01:25:41 PM »
Fwiw, I think Invitation is a far more helpful header than Introduction. "My report is about George Washington," is a bad introduction to the topic. "We can only understand where we are by knowing where we've come from, and some of the most important but often invisible aspects of our society, things we have long taken for granted but continue to do so at our peril, stem from precedents set by the genius and wisdom of our first president," introduces the topic in a way that at least tries to invite people to care about the topic. When it comes to sermons, I think the danger for pastors is to take for granted that people care what we have to say. They should care, of course, but they often need a little help. "For my sermon today, I would like to take a closer look at the parable in our Gospel reading..." presupposes that everyone is awaiting with bated breath. And if they really do "hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it" they probably are. But a lot of people aren't there. If the preacher is using a manuscript, that introductory sentence is not worth typing out. Children writing book reports with a minimum word count type out such sentences. "Jesus hid three beautiful gems in a seemingly simple story," introduces the topic in a way that invites people to care and keep listening.

I think you're right.  Invitation is a good word/concept, encouraging active participation. 

Then there's exculpation - this is why it wasn't your fault.  Then re-culpation - sorry, it was your fault.  Mea culpa. 

Dave Benke

Norman Teigen

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Re: Sermongate
« Reply #44 on: July 14, 2021, 10:20:33 AM »
A retired Baptist minister's letter was  published by the Times:  "When serving a church whose congregation included theological scholars, I wrestled with whether, or how, to identity the sources of my references without punctuating my sermons with verbal footnotes.  Seeking. the counsel of one of the scholars, I was told, 'Most people don't mind learning that their pastor has read a book.' "
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