Preaching with Power – Henry Wright

Preaching With PowerAs we continue our discussion of the book Preaching With Power by R. Clifford Jones we get to Pastor Henry Wright. Henry Wright is the Senior Pastor of Community Praise SDA Church in Alexandria Virginia. He rose to prominence when he was a professor in the Department of Religion and Theology at Oakwood College. Over his career he has also been a Conference president and Union Secretary. He is well known and considered by many to be a great preacher of the Gospel.

Understanding of Preaching

Elder Wright sees preaching as “God’s Word manifested in human personality.” He states that this is why he resists the idea of copying anyone else. I think this is an important point. There is a reason why God has called you as an individual preacher to preach the gospel. Our individuality manifests itself in our selection of texts, the questions we ask the text, and even what we do and do not emphasize. Wright continues this idea by stating that the sermon is “God’s word sifted through human experience.”

Wright’s understanding of preaching includes an agony of preaching that that manifests itself in 3 ways. First, the preacher recognizes that he or she is a part of the problem that the preacher is addressing in the sermon. Second, the preacher recognizes that often there are some who know more about the Bible than he or she does. Finally, we realize that the Gospel is always beyond our ability to describe or define it.

Method of Sermon Preparation

Pastor Wright has a very extensive 8 step method of sermon preparation. Before he describes it he states that he makes certain assumptions of the preacher. The first assumption is that the preacher is constantly reading the Bible, theological works, professional material, as well as magazines of current events. The second assumption is that the preacher is living a life of prayer.

Step 1 is to select the passage and read it in as many different translations as possible. During this reading Wright jots down any thoughts that come to his mind. He says that it can take him 2 hours to do this step.

Step 2 is to look up key words making use of his Greek and Hebrew reading ability. He asks questions like who is writing, what is the situation of the writing, to whom was it written? During this step he consults several commentaries and Bible Dictionaries.

Step 3 is to find a theme statement for the sermon. During this phase he asks the question what am I trying to accomplish? He notes that a passage of scripture can point to many differnt possibilities so during this step he decides on the one that he will preach in this sermon.

Step 4 is to find illustrative material that is applicable to the people that he is preaching to. His favorite source of illustrations is the Reader’s Digest.

Step 5 is to write out the sermon. Wright says that he is a manuscript preacher and thus writes it out word by word. While he has a good memory and therefore is not tightly bound to the manuscript, 9 times out of 10 he takes it into the pulpit with him.

Step 6 is to think about how he will end the sermon. He emphasizes that you don’t raise new things in the conclusion. This reminds me of one thing my intro to homiletics professor said “Start Strong, End Strong, and make the middle as short as possible.”

Step 7 is to evaluate the sermon based on his evaluation method. This method includes asking himself questions like does the sermon flow correctly? Is there unity of thought? Does it have purpose?

Step 8 is to rehearse by reading the sermon out loud.

Understanding of Black Preaching

Wright is both a believer in and not a believer in Black preaching. He states that we should remember that black preacher’s learned to preach from white preachers. He notes that the white preachers that Black preachers learned from were not the lecturn lecture-like preachers that we think of today, but the preachers of Black Preaching: The Recovery of a Powerful Artthe plains like Jonathan Edwards. This thought is also echoed by Henry Mitchell in Black preaching that even states that there is a white counterpart to whooping.

After having said that he defines black preaching as a style of preaching that was story-telling, incisive, highly descriptive. He notes that such a style was important for the slaves who could not read the Bible for themselves.

Understanding of Adventist Preaching

In this place he does not directly address Adventist preaching but he does note that our preaching has become more hands on in the last few years versus the years when he was younger. Today you are more likely to hear sermons that tell you how to get along with people or succeed than sermons about doctrinal content. While he believes there is a place for such sermons, he notes that we cannot forget the doctrines or teachings in our sermons.

Preaching with Power – E. E. Cleveland

The next interview is with E. E. Cleveland. He is probably the greatest Adventist Evangelist of our time. When one thinks of Adventist Evangelists E. E. Cleveland’s name will almost certainly come up

Understanding of Preaching

Elder Cleveland did not explicitly speak about his?theology of preaching, but he did speak of a few important points. First Preaching With Powerhe notes that the preacher must have a holy boldness. Next, the preacher must be totally dependent on the Holy Spirit. Next, all of our preaching must be Christ-centered.? Cleveland reminds us that we should not allow T. D. Jakes or Rod Parsely to have a corner on preaching Jesus.
Another interesting point that Cleveland brings out is that the preacher cannot always recognize the difference between a good and a bad sermon.? Just preach your sermon and leave the results to God.? Cleveland tells the story of a time he thouhgt the sermon was not really that good, but someone came, this taught him to just preach.

Method of Sermon Preparation

Once again Elder Cleveland does not really give a method, but he does say that he always prepares by daily reading three texts. First is 2 Samuel 7:8. The second is Nehimiah 13:14. The third is Exodus 23:25.? It is interesting that all three are Old Testament texts which shows how the Adventist preacher and the Black preacher uses the Old Testament just as much as the New.

Understanding of Adventist Preaching

Elder Clevland emphasizes that Jesus must be at the center of our presentations as Adventist ministers. He states that Black Adventist preachers have remembered this. He gives the example of the Sanctuary. He states that Black Advnetists have always kept Jesus first in this doctrine and have not gotten caught up in the perephnalia of the Sanctuary. Elder Cleveland quotes Henry Wright who spoke about the Sanctuary and stated in effect, “I don’t care if the throne is moveable or not, all I care is that there is a thrown and we have an advocate.”

Understanding of Black Preaching

Elder Cleveland emphasizes that it is important to know Black history if you are to be a black preacher. Cleveland believes that Black preaching is not about emotion, but about contextually relating the Gospel to the historic struggles of black people. He believes that?this kind of Black preaching is?totally compatible with Adventist preaching.
Elder Cleveland’s?discussion of the?black struggle for freedom is significant in that he?identifies the freedom movement?as God’s movement. The move for black liberation is not peripheral to God’s hand in history, but it is God’s hand in history. Thus Black history becomes a discussion of God’s acts in history and not merely a discussion of abstract facts.? Black history is transformed into looking for God’s hand in history.? Thus when one speaks of a narrative approach to preaching we can tell the Biblical story as narrative,Preaching With Power but we also can tell the narrative of God’s present actions.?
Another interesting point about this kind of preaching is that it reminds us that God cares not merely about individuals, but also about groups.? God cares about Black people as a people.? God cares about individuals AND groups.??Revelation teaches us that Jesus hand is over history.? The Seven Churches teach us that God is taking care of the Church throughout history.? Trimming the lamps so that it can truly be the people of God.?? God is actively invovled in helping us individually, but also as a people.? God is not coming back for an individual or even for us as individuals, but God is coming back for a people a remnant.? It is true that we become members of a group individually, but it is also true that Jesus is coming back for the Bride which is the church corporate and universal.
I think Black Preaching can help us bring back this corporate identity to evangelical Christianity whihc has totally ignored the importance of the corporate in spirituality.? Perhaps this is why some have such a hard time explaining why one should go to church and not just stay home and pray by oneself with their own connection to Jesus.