I think about preaching a lot, and I preach a lot. Now, normally it is to myself in the car, but occasionally I get to do it in front of people. Preaching is one of the moments in which I feel most alive. (Just so you know, if you are thinking about your identity, focus on those moments when you feel most alive.) I enjoy listening to sermon podcasts. Love going to church to hear preaching, and wish that I could take more preaching classes, just for the fun of it. So, I thought I would share my running definition of preaching and then unpack it a litle bit. “Preaching is essentially translating the revealed Word of God to God’s children.” Translation is difficult business. I’m taking Greek right now. Translation is difficult. Oh yes, you can learn the alphabet pretty easily, and maybe even memorize some vocab words, but that does not mean that I am ready to translate Matthew 1 from Greek to English perfectly. In fact, translating is rarely a word for word equivalent. Often words have a variety of meanings. The English word love is not equal with the Greek words agape or eros. Agape love is a self-emptying love. It does not mean a enjoyment of pizza kinda love. Make sense? I hope so.
So the preacher is called to translate, which is difficult because we all speak our own language. Yes, we share English, but I speak and think in particularly”Aaronese.” My understanding of marriage is peculiarly shaped with my unique marriage to Heather Tiger that nobody else has experienced. It also has been shaped by seeing my parents marriage, other marriages both in real life and on tv. Your experience of marriage is also somewhat similar, we’ve probably seen the marriage of Monica and Chandler on Friends. We’ve been to weddings, and know the covenant associated with it. So if I want to communicate my experience with marriage, I must either add to your concept or take away concepts to best explain what I am trying to communicate.
Instead of necessarily focus on translating Greek to English (though this is important) the preacher must translate the essential meaning of the text, the heart of the text, what God has reveled to her. In my most recent sermon, the Word that I was to proclaim was centered around the importance of introducing Jesus. In order to best translate the importance of this, I had to go into the worldview of my audience and encompass the range of people’s experience with introductions. So, I talked about pregame sports introductions, pick-up lines, first impressions, and introducing speakers. Hopefully, my audience has had experience with at least one of these introductions. With that grounding of my congregations experience with introduction, I was able to then communicate how the introduction of Jesus was similar to and different than those experiences that we have.
Preaching must reach into the common experience and knowledge of the congregation. Too often, people communicate from their worldview and perspective and speak clearly from them, for them. We’ve all been there somebody is talking and you can tell they know their stuff perfectly, but you were not on the same wavelength as them. They did not translate their idea in a common experience and knowledge for you. Translation is key.
Of course, any translation begins with understanding the meaning of the first language. For preachers that means we must exegete correctly. We must listen to the movement of the Spirit in the text, in the interpretations, in our experience, and in the way the world works, and then come to an enlightened understanding of the revelation of God. Here many preachers, including myself from time to time, will insert their own narratives instead of God’s narratives. To be successful preachers we must receive the revelation of God accurately and then begin to translate it to the people.
Preaching is not easy, but it is vital. It’s not just enough for preachers to be great communicators who can relate to the people, or great interpretersof the revelation of God, but preaching is translating first as interreters then as communicators. Then, truly the Word we preach is a living Word. Praise be to God.