Want good Sunday homilies? Form preachers, not sermons

Dr. Mark Labberton. Credit: Fuller Theological Seminary.

Dr. Mark Labberton. Credit: Fuller Theological Seminary.

I talked with Dr. Mark Labberton last week, he’s the incoming president of Fuller Theological Seminary, which forms evangelical pastors who serve throughout the world.

Much of our conversation can be found here, but there was a bit more than just didn’t fit into the article, but I wanted to share with you all.

He was for a long time a Presbyterian pastor, and has been teaching homiletics – preaching – at Fuller since 2009.

Knowing that Catholics aren’t, how do I say it, renowned for their homilies, I thought that as a Protestant pastor and a professor of preaching, he might have some insight about what could be done to fix that.

“The way I’ve approached homiletics is…that the life of the church exists to give evidence in word and deed of the reality and grace of God’s love in Christ. In the biggest sense, that’s the task of homiletics and of the church in its own demonstrated life and preaching in the world,” Dr. Labberton told me.

He noted that in his own work forming preachers, he focuses not on “sermon formation,” but on preacher formation.

“It’s really about the formation of the preacher, over and against the formation of the sermon.”

Dr. Labberton explained that strong preaching is based not primarily on education in style and delivery, but on a “deeper theological, personal, spiritual convergence.”

“My concern has not been with the performance aspects of preaching nearly so much as it is the theological, spiritual formation of the people who preach.”

So maybe we’ll get better Sunday homilies when men in formation to become priests receive more theological formation, as Dr. Labberton suggested – more theological content in their classes.

Perhaps multiplying the number of hours spent in homiletics classes, focusing on delivery and style, is not the best way to end up with priests who ‘feed’ their sheep with their Sunday homilies.

Just a thought.