Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Professor to Pastor

MCMcEntyre.jpgI learn so much from pastors, and I’ll be blogging about one such pastor soon, and I’ve learned that I learn so much because we learn from one another. Pastors sometimes write me about cracking the code of a passage so they can preach it well, and I write to them about wisdom for preaching. 

Now from a professor to a pastor. Pastors I think could help their preaching and their prayers if they read books about writing. Besides reading the Bible, pastors read books about management and leadership and stewardship and communication, but I wonder how many of them read books about writing. Learning about writing is, as Marilyn Chandler McEntyre says in her wondrous romp into the world of words, learning to care for and about words. Her book has just that title: Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies
How have “writers” or books about writing helped you as a pastor? What are the best writers for you?

But this isn’t one of those Will Strunk — E.B. White books that tells us to use good grammar or spell words properly, and there’s a place for those books. I’ve worn mine proudly. Instead, McEntyre’s book reads like a testament of love for the words this professor has learned. She’s been teaching students to love poetry and novels and how to write. She’s a master of words, and this book is lavishly dotted here and there with story and quotation, and pastors would do well to learn to care about and for words. Your prayers and the preaching will improve.

Princeton Theological Seminary asked McEntyre, a professor at Westmont, to give the Stone Lectures, and she essayed into her subject with twelve insights:
1. Love words
2. Tell the truth
3. Don’t tolerate lies
4. Read well
5. Stay in conversation
6. Share stories
7. Love the long sentence
8. Practice poetry
9. Attend to translation
10. Play
11. Pray
12. Cherish silence.
Pastor, ignore this book at your risk. Read it and cherish it to your own blessing.
Comments read comments(14)
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Jim Kane

posted October 9, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Well said Scott and I appreciate this post…

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Keith Clark

posted October 9, 2009 at 2:03 pm

While I was doing an internship during seminary with a preaching minister, he encouraged me with a very similar message. He gave me a copy of Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk. Since then, I’ve tried to commit myself to regularly read well-written fiction (Wendell Berry, Marilynne Robinson, David James Duncan, etc.) as a way of exercising my sermon-writing muscles (vocabulary, grammar, rhetoric). While this can’t replace reading textual, pastoral, and theological works, it is in my opinion a vital complement to those works. And, if I do say so myself, reading the writings of wonderful wordsmiths has enriched my preaching tremendously. I’ll definitely check out your recommendation.

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posted October 9, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Great advice! One of the best things I did as I was coming along as a preacher was to (1) love poetry and read it out loud (a lot!) and (2) listen to great storytellers like Fred Craddock.
I once met Walter Hooper who wrote an early biography of C.S. Lewis. I asked him what advice he would give to someone who wanted to be a writer. I think his advice about that fits for preachers too. He said: “Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write.” :-)

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Tim Hallman

posted October 9, 2009 at 2:07 pm

What helpful list of insights. And thanks to the helpful professors!

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Clay Knick

posted October 9, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Writers like Eugene Peterson & Phil Yancey and a host of others have been helpful to me. Not only what they write, but how they express it in words is a delight to me, a person who lives by words & the Word.
I’ll get this book.

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posted October 9, 2009 at 2:44 pm

William Willimon, Frederick Buechner, Eugene Peterson, Madeline L’Engle, Lewis Smedes — these (among many others — now including yourself)are mentors I read often.
A question: The Apostle Paul liked the long sentence; I appreciate the long sentence but, I am not sure that preaching the long sentence communicates today. Comments?

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posted October 9, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Reading something other than what directly applies to next Sunday’s sermon ought to be a regular part of a pastor’s study. I’ve been going through the short stories of Tobias Wolff recently and love the way he crafts both sentences and plot. However, as one of the comments noted, the spoken and written word are apples and oranges. Some things transfer to the pulpit but some don’t. Depends on your congregation. I love to read B. B. Taylor’s sermons, but, honestly, they would put most of my congregation to sleep. Too subtle. So along with the written word, we need to listen to each other. When I work out I have my iPod tuned to Willimon and Hamilton and Bell and others and I try to listen not simply to content but how they present it, how they approach difficult issues as pastors and so on.

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Scot McKnight

posted October 9, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Many thanks for that observation; so true: written vs. oral.

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Erika Haub

posted October 9, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Marilyn became a friend of ours when my husband consulted for a church up in San Luis Obispo, and her book of poems, Drawn to the Light is exquisite. I cherish my own copy and have given it as a gift to others. I will definitely try to get my hands on this new book.

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posted October 9, 2009 at 5:50 pm

I have never really read much on writing in a specific sense. I love to write, have even thought about studies in writing. I’d love to write published articles and books one day.
I was a communications major in undergrad, so words and semantics have been very important to me. Living in Brussels, there are literally 100’s of languages spoken in one city. I am fascinated that I just had drinks with 10 other guys with 6 different languages represented at the table. It’s amazing. Even being from the south in the US and now living in Europe, I have lost my accent in an attempt to annunciate better, though sometimes I find myself speaking broken English as if it will help others understand me better.
But, as a pastor of an international church, I realise the importance of communication, of words, of language, of semantics. I always remember these words of one author – ‘To say that communication is important to human life is to be trite, but that bit of triteness witnesses to an invariable truth: communication means life or death to persons.’ (Reuel Howe, The Miracle of Dialogue)

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Allan R. Bevere

posted October 9, 2009 at 7:10 pm

I love and regularly utilize #7.

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Clay Knick

posted October 10, 2009 at 11:01 am

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that McKnight guy.

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posted October 10, 2009 at 6:16 pm

“Practice, practice, practice,” is not only rules for playing at Carnegie Hall. I “pride” myself at being a “wordsmith,” but only because I had the BEST teacher – my Dad. He was a corporate patent attorney, and knew the VALUE of the written AND spoken word. I was reading (actually READING) at 2 yrs old, and by the time I turned 10, an instructor of mine in drama studies said I had, by far, the best vocabulary of anyone my age (or ANY age). I post many articles on blogs, though I don’t have one of my own (someday…). To be able to use the PRECISE word where/when it counts, is an art. By taking courses in writing, this skill will start to come naturally, and aid and abet the preacher with his/her own homilies. One day, I’m thinking of writing a self-published little book about my life (no on would believe it!), but until then, I’m content to add my opinions on sites such as BeliefNet – so – THANK YOU!!

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