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The Power of Speaking God's Word: How to Preach Memorable Sermons Paperback – January 1, 2001
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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"Preaching without notes: I've watched the idea strike terror onto the hearts of fledgling preachers - and not a few veterans - countless times. But now there is help. Wilbur Ellsworth shows not only that this feat can be done, but also, more importantly, how and why it should be done." (Dr. Duane Litfin, President, Wheaton College)
"The Power of Speaking God's Word is much more than a book about preaching, "the great purpose of the oral craft," writes Ellsworth, is to create a sermon inside the preacher in all its fullness so that, when the moment to preach comes, the text of scripture in all its meaning and significance pours forth from the preacher. Ellsworth's book has been good for my soul and my preaching. It is a pleasure to commend this fine book." (R. Kent Hughes ~ Senior Pastor Emeritus, College Church, Wheaton, Illinois)
"Preachers should read and carefully consider this very well-focused study on the oral sermon in our times. Dr. Ellsworth preaches to large congregations and provides moving testimony to how his preaching changed positively when he weaned himself from an addiction to his manuscript...highly recommended for all students and practitioners of the craft." (David L. Larsen ~ Professor Emeritus of Preaching, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois)
"Most preachers have been taught to produce carefully written material to be given in the pulpit. Changing patterns is hard but Wilbur Ellsworth will show you why you should change and how you can. His thoughts have deeply impacted my own preaching." (John Armstrong ~ Director of Renew and formerly a Pastor for twenty years)
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The real thesis of this book revolves around the difference between "orality" and "literacy," a distinction captured by Walter Ong - who Ellsworth cites frequently in his developmental chapter "What is Orality?" Writing and speaking work differently in different settings. Ellsworth contends that most modern day preaching (an oral communication) is shaped and delivered predominantly as written communication. Every sermon has its roots in a written text - the Bible - but most of the supplemental study is derived from other detailed texts, which are then formulated into what is essentially a paper, sometimes then reduced to an outline, and then delivered as a monograph with pretty close adherence to either the manuscript or the outline of the manuscript.
The problem? The congregation can't follow. Literary communication is complex; you can take time to go back over what you just read; you can pause, look ahead, see the big picture of the outline, and read to fill in the gaps. To attempt to communicate literary form in an oral manner means the congregation is going to miss most of it. They would be better off if you printed out your paper, and they read it for themselves at their own leisure.
The answer is to recover a distinctly oral method of communicating the truth of the Bible from start to finish, from the first stages of preparation all the way through the delivery. This is not a "don't prepare, just wing it" method, at all. It requires more preparation, an additional series of steps to take the information from a literary form and transmit it into an oral form that the congregation can actually engage with.
A fascinating chapter is "A History of Orality in Preaching" in which quotes and anecdotes from many famous preachers throughout history are gathered, each showing the importance of orality, and exhorting preachers to leave off the notes when preaching.
This is a challenging book. It gets back to the real issue: is my preaching effective, are they getting anything out of it? Or did I simply prepare a complex literary document and then read it (or its outline) to an audience that simply can't follow the intricacies of the argument. I still feel some fear at leaving notes completely behind, but I'm encouraged to prepare and try, and I'm convinced it matters. A very thought provoking book.