As a baby boomer preacher I am always interested in learning the craft of preaching. For years I have been aware that as I age it is increasingly difficult to hold the attention of the younger people. Our culture has shifted so dramatically when it comes to preaching that even older listeners struggled to track with the preacher. Long gone is the day when a preacher could effectively deliver a 45 minute logical discourse <<YAWN>> about how to love our neighbors.
In thirty years of preaching and having obtained two advanced degrees in religion I have read many books on preaching. Let me encourage you right up front: if you are a preacher BUY THIS BOOK. In fact, stop reading this review, search for it on amazon.com and just buy it. Do it. (Why are you still reading this? Go. Now. Buy. It.) After you buy the book please come back to this review and let me tell you why you have just made the best decision you could make to improve your preaching.
Sweet, in this book and other titles, makes it clear we live in a different age. Older folk can be viewed as “Guttenbergers”; ie, those who grew up with the written text. (This usually, but not always, aligns with age groups.) As an older person, I clearly understand what Sweet means. I love holding a physical book in my hand. As I read I think logically. My academic training is such that I resonate with the clear progression of ideas. I think and breath in outline fashion.
But the younger generation is quite different. Sweet calls this newer generation the “Googlers.” These are the people who search the internet for information. And that means they are primarily image driven. Search. Scan. Look at images. On to the next page. Googlers are just not wired to sit through a logical oriented word driven sermon. No wonder younger people often opt out of church services where they must endure a boring lecture.
Sweet’s book is the prescription I highly recommend to assure that you connect with the Googlers. This is why you need to buy this book. (You already bought it, right?) This book will help you to connect with the younger people who desperately need the Gospel message.
At the heart of what Sweet teaches in his book is the concept of using an extended “narraphor” as you preach an E.P.I.C. sermon. A narraphor is an extended metaphor. The best example on exactly what this looks like is for you to read the table of contents in the book you just purchased. (You bought the book, right?)
The title is Giving Blood and the chapters all related to the concept of giving blood. “Giving blood” is the metaphor for the act of preaching. The metaphor becomes an extended metaphor by using the metaphor in different ways as title chapters. That is what needs to happen in preaching using Sweet’s new paradigm. You find the metaphor in the text and work with that metaphor.
But that’s only part of the cure. The material you use in the text needs to be presented in E.P.I.C. fashion. This means it ought to be Experiential, Participatory, Image-Rich, and Connective. It is beyond my scope to teach you what all of this means but you can read it for yourself in the book you just bought. The main idea, however, is to present the material in such a way that it draws people into the narrative.
Here’s an example from my own preaching. I recently preached on the text “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” I distributed small packs of M&Ms to the congregation. I led them through thanking God for the good things in their lives. And each time I told them to be thankful I told them to take an M&M and pop it into their mouth and saying “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” But then I pulled a head of broccoli out of a bag and asked who wanted to taste and see if this was good. (You never know what happens when you preach like this. When I did this a 12 year kid raised his hand and said he loved broccoli. He ran to the front and took a huge bite out of the top.) This Experiential, Participatory, Image-Rich, and Connective moment allowed me to raise this question: “So is it possible that ‘taste and see’ just might mean that even the bitter things in our lives just might be GOOD FOR us?”
The book carefully and clearly lays the foundation for preaching to Googlers. It is complete with workshop sections where you are encouraged to experiment and explore in your own “lab” as you learn to preach while giving blood.
Recently, I led a small group study of this book on Facebook. Participants loved the book. I should warn you, however, that Chapter 5 can be tough going for some readers. This is the chapter that focuses on defining different methods of sermon construction. Please wade through this chapter and keep on going. Once you go through this chapter there remains a Promised Land of sermonic information that will enrich your preaching.
If you only plan on buying and reading one nook on preaching in the next tens years buy this book. If I was a rich man I would buy everyone who reads this review a free copy of the book. Since I am far from rich it is on your shoulders to go and buy it. Oh wait. You’ve already done that, haven’t you?