Sunday, July 01, 2007

From Pulpit to Lectern

When Dean Alan Culpepper invited me to teach preaching at McAfee this past year, I had that curious mixture of anticipation and apprehension that attends any new challenge.

On the one hand, the proclamation of God’s Good News has been the compelling enterprise of my life for almost thirty years of pastoral ministry. There is nothing that captures a parish pastor’s imagination and energies more forcefully than preaching.

But, on the other hand, the extent of my teaching experience had consisted of substituting in the county high school of the western Kentucky rural community where I served my first pastorate. I feared that perhaps my pedagogical skills might have atrophied over the past couple of decades since those occasional forays into the classroom!

There is a world of difference between the practice of preaching and the instruction of it.

As anyone who has had to preach—or had to hear-- sermons can attest, preaching is an inexact activity, much more art than science. Subjectivity prevails. Intuition, interpretation, imagery, style, rhythm, and timing are key. There is no homiletical “right way,” and the idiosyncracies of human personality more than a little bit apply. How does one instruct such things?

I discovered early on in my pastoral career a piece of wisdom that I have tried to follow ever since: good churches make good pastors—not the other way around. That old saw had served me well for a long time. Lacking any better core procedural principle as I embarked on the journey from parish to academy, I took that one into the classroom with me: my students and colleagues would guide and teach me. The ones I’m charged to serve would show me how to maximize our time of learning together.

That hunch has, blessedly, proven abundantly true this past year.

The central feature of McAfee’s special life together is community. Professors and students enjoy a quality of personal relationship rare in academic culture. There is a character of collegiality to what happens in the learning environment at McAfee. Values such as partnership, dialogue, engagement, and practice are held highly and cultivated carefully.

The knowing/being/doing missional triad is more than a mantra at McAfee. It is the philosophical and operational template of this place of training. What is done with hand and felt in heart is just as important as what is thought in head.
This tripartite approach to learning is particularly critical in the area of preaching. The practice and the study go hand-in-hand. As every working preacher knows, each delivery of a sermon is the preparation for the next one! Therefore, we not only read and reflect and write about preaching. In our school, we do it! It is the doing that shapes our learning.

Once I located myself in this understanding, I found my sea legs. The rhythm of study and practice is invaluable for the ministry of proclamation: preaching in the churches on the Sabbath week-by-week on one hand; coming together for inquiry and discovery in the classroom during the week on the other.

The year has been a Providential season of growth and regrouping. These wonderful McAfee minister-professors and ministers-in-training have greatly enabled and encouraged me, and I am grateful for the opportunity to join them on this exploration.

Because of them, I’ve learned that the journey from pulpit to lectern isn’t such a long one after all.


Unknown said...

Sounds like you are where you are meant to be. There is something profoundly fulfilling about making that teacher-student connection, when you know you have struck a chord, or seen the mental light come on. It must be especially gratifying to be sharing about the gift of ministry with those who are called of God to minister to others. There is also that profound responsibility for sending out the Truth of the Good News through your students.

May your time in the desert be fruitful, encouraging, enlightening and defining.

MizcgMcB said...

About the time you posted this on Sunday, your name came up in a discussion in the Boomers' SS class at 2nd B.....along with Gordon Atkinson, Mark Lowry and Tony Campolo. Were your ears burning?

Anonymous said...

How many states have you lived in charlie?
have they all been in the south?

Anonymous said...

Charlie, we have been doubly blessed to have you as our Pastor for five years as well as our good friend.
When we were in Atlanta last month, you invited us to sit in on your class one day. We were so very impressed by your students. They, each one, spoke to our hearts as we sat in awe.
Our time with you and Jana was so precious to us and listening to your 'preachers'.


Charlie Johnson said...

Yes, all my living has been in the South: born in Alabama, raised in Florida, college in Mississippi, seminary in Kentucky, pastorates in Kentucky and Texas, now teaching in Georgia and interim pastoring in Tennessee.

I have, like the Atlanta paper used to say, "covered Dixie like the dew."

Anonymous said...

"Covered Dixie like the dew" is so you Charlie! I know you get as much, if not more from your students as you give them. What a profound blessing for both you and your students and all who encounter you! Aloha, Charlie

Anonymous said...

lol, you really are a southern man through and through. Of all those states which has been your favorite?
After your done at Mercer, you should move to New England for a change of pace ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Charlie We all miss you at Trinity Baptist Church.How are you doing?
Mary Coldwater from special friends class

Anonymous said...

Charlie and Jana, are you ever coming back to Lubbock? To date, I have not found a minister that makes me so close to God.

Your friend, Twila Aufill

Charlie Johnson said...

Yes, Twila, I am preaching the 50th Anniversary of Second Baptist Church on the first Sunday of March of 2008. I'd love to see you, and you are a dear to write!


Williams Family said...


I've run into a roadblock and was hoping you may be able to help :) Jessica is now fully into medical school, and I'm staying home with Aurora these days. However, I would like to begin some courses through a seminary and start working on a degree in Theology. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find one close enough to Galveston to make it really feasible in our current situation. I was hoping you might know where I might be able to start some courses online. I did a Google pull, but I have no way of knowing which schools are reputable. Any advice you could give would be a blessing! Also, If you or Jana are ever in Galveston, look us up!



Caroline said...

Hi Charlie,
I'm not sure how often you check postings or if this one will even appear as recent (november '07)..I am happy to report to you that Craig and I were finally married. You baptized him at Trinity, and that was another beautiful day for us. We miss you and hope you and your whole family are well. We hope you can come back to San Antonio sometime soon. Caroline Dobson Chavez

Unknown said...

We just learned on Wednesday evening of Chris Ann and your encounter with bees. We are so thankful that you were there to take care of her. We also are sorry for the loss of your dog.
Jim and I know that you will be a blessing to the congregation at Broadway. We think of you and Jana and are so thankful for your time at Second B. We will need your prayers as we begin looking for a senior pastor. Pray for our search committee. Sue and Jim Hill