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Comic and Preacher Pens How-To Book on Sermon Prep  

Susan Sparks reflects on humor that is joyful and therapeutic in her book, “Preaching Punchlines.”

She is not speaking of humor that is scornful, rude, hateful or judgmental, but humor that lifts us up and honors. She quickly banishes any thoughts that she is advocating delivering sermons that are theologically light.

Sparks, who is pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City, knew that her calling was to be a pastor at age 6.

Yet, her dreams were ridiculed and squelched by religious leaders in her native Southern Baptist upbringing, and so she delayed that dream until mid-career after becoming a successful attorney.

She delights in being a pastor, and this book stresses the hard work that delivering a sermon, speech or comedy routine requires. She is part of a standup comedy troupe that includes a rabbi and an imam.

The heart of the book is the fifth chapter, in which she demonstrates the humor of Jesus in example after example.

Sparks is enthusiastic about how Jesus uses ordinary circumstances to connect with his audience.

He uses every technique available: exaggeration, humor, voice, irony, timing, silence, parables and repetition to capture his listener’s attention.

Follow Jesus’ example, she urges. Use every means possible including humor. This is important because the audience will remember only 10% of what you say.

Providing step-by-step instructions on sermon preparation, she emphasizes always keeping your congregation in mind. What are members of your congregation interested in? What keeps them awake at night? What’s going on around you?

Observe people and listen to them, she advises. Always keep a notebook or recording device with you. Make a note about your observations. Develop a file system that will let you find illustrations that you have experienced, observed or read about. Talk about the hard stuff.

She stresses that congregations need more than they can Google. They need to be given real food by someone they trust.

“A sermon is bigger than us,” she writes. “In its purest form, a sermon should be a message inspired from a higher power given through you to a congregation. God is the power source. If we don’t feel the power, it’s not God.”

Learn to write like a comedian, Sparks says. Build your scenario. The punch line comes last. Wait a moment to let it sink in before you start talking again.

Boil your sermon down to your core message. Put that at the top of your page. Read your sermon out loud at least twice. This will help you weed out unnecessary words or extraneous material.

Narrow your sermon to what is direct and necessary for your one-line summary. Reserve the rest for another time.

Finally, she follows and recommends the practice of praying your sermon out loud.

One commandment Sparks gives is the one many ministers ignore, but its observance is essential: “Thou shalt not be exhausted by the Sabbath.” Rest and sleep are essential.

Sparks believes that being given an opportunity to preach before a community of faith is one of the highest honors one can receive. If one is to perform at her or his best, time apart, rest and reflection are mandatory.

So, she emphasizes that ministers must take a day off. Get away. At least stay away from the church once in a while. She and her husband take motorcycle trips.

Always remember why you are doing what you are doing, she says. Tap into the source. Always keep a copy of your sermons. Review them, taking note of common themes. What excites you? What do you preach about most often?

Her final commandment is my favorite, “Thou shalt have joyous communication.” This is true for comedians, motivational speakers and preachers. “No matter how we feel, we must radiate joyous communication into the rafters and far corners of the sanctuary.”

As I travel around and hear sermons from preachers in various denominations, this element most often is missing. Where is the joy of living the Christian life?

I already know my failures. If the joy is lacking in your speeches or sermons, Spark’s book will lift your spirits and help you rekindle your zest for preaching.

She reminds us that we are enough, and that God always has our back.

“Preaching Punchlines” contains ample references and numerous QR codes that allow you to scan even more. This book is pure gold for anyone who wishes to improve her or his sermons.

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Five U.S. Presidents; Five Great Americans – May 6, 2013 – ethicsdaily.com

I wrote this column six years ago and it is still true today. I just spent the 4th. of July with my sister, brother-in-law and their family. It is a great reminder of what a great country we have and who we are as a people. I could not get the picture of the five presidents to reproduce here. I need my son, Michael, Brandy or Lori to help me with that. The message is clear. We live in a great country. We may be divided at times over issues, but we are never divided in our love for our country.

The picture of President Obama standing with the four living former U.S. presidents at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas is a grand statement for us, and the rest of the world, as to whom we are. No one had to die for any one of them to take office. None was deposed by some despot.

Each took office as a result of a vote by a free people. Each has his strengths and each has his weaknesses. Although each of us has our preferences, only time will sift through the remains for an accurate judgment.

Each one separately, and all of them together, tell a great story. Although each of these men is flawed in some dramatic way, I am happy to be represented by any one of them.

Along with whatever baggage each man carries, he is a great American. He has stood the test. He has walked through the fire and emerged a winner.

Your vote may have been different from mine, but that is the point. We do not have to agree to live together in peace. We do not have to think the same or vote the same.

I am happy with the choices I made and would make the same choices again. I am sure that you feel the same way about your choices.

Those men can stand there together because each one knows fully the burdens that each one shouldered.

Each one knows the agony, heartache, sleepless nights and the great joy of serving the American people. Each one understands that one word from any one of them during his turn in office could have plunged the world into instant chaos.

These are good men. They are us. Soon, too soon, each one of them will leave us. As each one goes, we will mourn his passing.

We will remember his accomplishments. We will lament his failures. In many cases, we will regret not heeding some of his advice.

Each has taken his turn on the world stage. The country, our country, will endure.

We are a strong people. We are resilient. We are capable of unbelievable acts that dishonor our national conscience, but we are also capable of unbelievable acts of honor, kindness and love.

For a season, we divide ourselves into blue states and red states, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, gay and straight, but when some misguided individual or group tries to harm us, we become one people, indivisible.

I am proud of those five men pictured there because I am in the picture and so are you. We are all holding hands. When it matters, we are one.

I am for national health care, gun control and immigration reform, and I understand full well that you may not be. We will decide these issues at the voting booth.

Each of us will have the opportunity to state our case to anyone who chooses to listen. No one is forced to listen, and no one is forced to vote.

We are free to follow our consciences, but no one is forced to follow us. We are free to become involved, and we are free to sit on the sidelines.

I am free to worship as I choose, and I am free not to worship at all.

Sometimes in the heat of debate, we forget how fortunate we are. We are free to debate. That is a hard-won freedom.

Look, again, at these five men. With all of their faults and virtues, they are us.

I, for one, am giving thanks for them individually and collectively. You are free to join me.

 

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Tearing Others Down is Easy; Say Something Nice Instead

By Mitch Carnell Nay 30, 2019 -Ethicsdaily.com

Every one of these privileged students wrote from a negative viewpoint. One or two did contrast positive speech and negative speech. The verbal abuse these young people have already experienced is heartbreaking.

Parents, teachers and coaches should be about the business of inspiring these students as opposed to tearing them down.

I know how hard it can be to always say the right thing. My grown son has made me painfully aware of the times when I failed to make the right remark.

When he cleaned his room as a child and waited for my approval, I tried to be honest and yet encouraging. “You’re getting there. It’s looking better.”

What he heard was so different. “You failed. It’s not good enough. You’re so messy.”

I never uttered one of those statements, but those are the ones he heard.

Forty-five years later, those words are still there and no matter how sorry I am or how much I try to explain, they are still in his nervous system and color our relationship.

I am proud of my son and all that he has accomplished in spite of my poorly chosen words.

How many other words did I say with good intentions but that hurt instead?

I carry deep within me words that were spoken to me with good intentions 75 years ago. I can still recite them.

When I let my guard down, they surface and contribute to a feeling of worthlessness – of never being good enough. My father confided to me things that were said to him years earlier that, even at his advanced age, still carried a barb. Words once spoken never die.

He did not know how to pay a compliment even when he was very pleased with some event or success.

Norman Vincent Peale is one of my heroes; however, he was ridiculed as being “religious light.”

His successor, Arthur Caliandro, became a friend, but this remarkable man was painted with the same negative brush.

When we first celebrated Say Something Nice Sunday (the first Sunday in June), the editor of the Florida Baptist newsletter wrote a front-page editorial referring to it as “Gospel Free Sunday.”

According to him, we were watering down the gospel. Does his Bible not record that Jesus said, “You are the light of the world?”

In her recent book, “Call It Grace,” Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, recounts in painful detail the verbal abuse she received from her mother.

This brilliant theologian still carries those wounds into one of the most respected religious positions in the world.

In contrast, she received uplifting words of encouragement from her famous father, but he could not erase what had been done.

Unfortunately, I know how to verbally slice you up, and I am good at it. I was a member of a successful debate team in college and taught debate as a faculty member.

I am sorry to say I have used those skills all too often. I am trying to get as good in demonstrating and teaching a better, more productive way of communicating. It isn’t easy.

Being positive is a challenge. Being negative is easy. People expect and accept negative criticism, but they are suspicious of positive comments. They are silently asking, “What does he want?”

As this year’s “Say Something Nice Day” approaches (June 2), I hope you’ll think back to those people who encouraged you. Think of those who said the right things. Think of the verbal gifts they gave you.

Then, bring their remarks into the present. Speak them aloud. Use these images to replace those of people who put you down and belittled your efforts.

There is wonderful Scripture that supports this practice: “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely and all that is worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)

Mitch Carnell

Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.

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Say Something Nice Day and Say Something Nice Sunday

June i, 2019 – is Say Something Nice Day. Greet everyone you meet with a smile and a warm greeting.

Proclamations have been issued by: The City of North Charleston, The City of Charleston, the City of Cayce, Charleston County, the City of Columbia, and Anaheim, California.

June 2, 2019 – is Say Something Nice Sunday.

There are free materials and a new set of devotionals at www.fbcharleston.org.

Click on Messages/Resources at the top of the page. Then select Say Something Nice Sunday.

We urge everyone to join in and make this a wonderful day.

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