With the upcoming Mockingbird Mini-Conference now less than seven weeks away (!) we continue our series of posts to familiarize everyone with the conference theme and why we chose it – sort of a preview of what the talks will entail, and one that we hope will grab you (and convince you to register ASAP). This week’s contribution is a preview of the “Preaching Pre-Conference” courtesy of Paul Zahl:

St. Francis wished to say that the person and example of the messenger is the main thing. A whole ‘nother tradition has wished to say that the message is the main thing. I think there is truth in both approaches and that is what I’ll be bearing down on during the pre-conference in Pensacola Friday November 19th.

I will give two talks, with plenty of Q & A, and then conduct a short practical workshop.

The first talk will concern the person of the preacher. This is important. If the preacher is confused about himself or herself, and doesn’t really know himself, that is going to come out in the sermon. It is going to affect the sermon.

Sometimes people complain about a sermon, “What was he trying to say?” The answer is more often than not, “He didn’t know.” This is because the preacher is all over the place personally. In other words, the problem is sometimes the singer not the song. When Bishop Salmon advises clergy to “deal with their stuff” before they begin a job, he is not whistling Dixie! That will be the thrust of my first talk.

The second talk will focus on the Song. Most preaching is exhortation in spite of itself. Quite a lot of preaching is thinly veiled anger at the congregation, as in ‘Why don’t they start doing what I tell them?’ A lot of preaching, in short, is Law. In Pensacola we’ll be talking about Grace. And not Grace as prelude to some new Law, for the beleaguered hearer; but Grace as prelude to new Grace.

In this second talk I shall talk about the use of illustrations as bearers of Grace. Sometimes I think we could almost say that the right illustration, without comment, can go the whole way in conveying the Grace of God to the hearer. Let’s talk about this.

Recently I received the transcript of a sermon preached in a German university pulpit by an outstanding and exemplary professor and minister of the Gospel. Yet there was not a single illustration in the entire performance. Not one! The whole thing was a kind of Bible-lecture, true enough, I guess, on its own terms, but lacking any personal resonance, or at least none that I could feel. At Pensacola I am going to zero in on the sermon illustration.

“If you’re going to Pen-sa-cola, Be sure to wear a flower in your hair.” Think of it this way: The Autumn of Love, in Florida’s beautiful Panhandle. I would love to be able to see you there.

We hope you will join us November 19-20 in Pensacola, Florida for an entire pre-conference on this subject from Paul Zahl; and that you’ll stay with us for the main conference to hear talks from Paul Zahl, David Browder, John Zahl and Jeff Hual.

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