Rhetoric & Homiletics: Building Resilience Into A Pulpit Ministry.

The word “resilient” has seemingly popped on the socio-political-cultural-media scene.  The popularized use of this word was meant to speak about something being fragile.  The common encounter with this word was person or product-oriented . . . .

“Kids are more resilient than older adults.”  — meaning that they can seemingly absorb more change or hurtful events.

“The mattress is made of a very resilient material.” — meaning that it has the ability to absorb the wear and tear it will be subjected to.

The word has now become more popularized in a commonplace setting when speaking about systems — having redundant processes makes the financial markets, eco-systems, infrastructure, the transportation of goods, the internet, or the disruptive energy supply more resilient.

“$1 billion in funding for its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC).”
“Complex systems are fragile and not very resilient, because when elements fail, things begin to fall apart.”

An interesting question involving the word “resilient” revolves around ministry, and specifically the local church pulpit ministry.

  • Has the preaching ministry been resilient during the pandemic and political disruption?
  • What is a resilient pulpit ministry?
  • Is resilience even a concept we ought to think about when it comes to ministry or preaching?

I might easily suggest that the apostle Paul was resilient.  He took quite a beating — literally —  in ministry!

However, his preaching was also resilient.  No matter who he spoke to — Jew or Greek, high or low, male or female, young or old, antagonists or friendly, theological professionals or pagan, Paul’s peaching was resilient.  Adaptation to his audience made his preaching resilient! He became all things to all men that he might win some!  At times, he exerted his rights, and at times he denied his rights to be able to preach the Gospel.

Taking your audience into account is what gives preaching resilience — the ability to absorb the impact of thoughts that are part of any preaching situation. Who will be in that audience, seriously pushing back on what I am saying?!  What will some/most be thinking as they sit and listen, when I say this, or when I say it this way?

If you believe that your typical audience is composed of people who are passively listening to what you have to say about life and living, without any mental pushback taking place, then you have not reflected on your own mental activity even as you listen to a fellow preacher!

The typical audience is composed of a group of individuals who are listening and agreeing, but also probing and pushing back.  Because they come from a wide variety of vantages — married and single, young and old, new believers and seasoned believers, satisfied and hurting, successful and failing, teens and adults, male and female, happily married and struggling, critical and non-critical, comfortable and upset, etc.

“Pastor, you may say that, but you don’t understand my situation!”

There is value in thinking about the life experiences of those who will be sitting in the audience on “Sunday.”  It makes a sermon more resilient!  The message will be able to absorb some of the pushback that it will receive as you preach.

There is value in verbally identifying the situations that people are experiencing in everyday, ordinary, run-of-the-mill life.  Taking the time to say . . . .

“You may be here this morning, and listening to me speak, and saying/thinking/feeling that  . . . . “

. . . will make your message more resilient, able to absorb some of the skepticism that goes with speaking or preaching to an audience who feels like the message is not for them and/or their lives.

One of the factors that mark many effective pulpit ministries, agree with that ministry or not, is that the speaker-preacher has taken into account, and/or indicates verbally, that he understands where “they” are coming from in life.  He identifies with them in life and living!  He makes it clear that he is not speaking from the theological “ivory tower” of a church study.  That “he gets it!”

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said,
Ye men of Athens,
I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions,
I found an altar with this inscription,
Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship,
him declare I unto you.

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