One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills by Daniel Overdorf
This new book on preaching entitled One Year to Better Preaching is a compendium of exercises to develop your skills as a communicator of God’s Word. Daniel Overdorf aims to bring together all components of a sermon from the illustrations, main points, and application to the setting we find ourselves in as we preach to all kinds of people. With good questions, keen insights, and droves of practical examples, this book will surely help preachers and teachers of every stripe. Daniel is not content with harnessing his energy on one particular aspect of preaching, but desires to encourage preachers through the whole process of preaching from the preacher and listener’s perspective. This kind of unique perspective was what challenged me the most as I seek to deliver God-honoring sermons.
The book is divided up into 52 short chapters with bonus exercises at the end of the book. Each chapter includes exercises, observations, additional suggestions, quotes from pastors, and additional study material for further research. One of the chapters that resonated powerfully with me in the book is Daniel’s chapter entitled Apply Specifically. We want applications that ‘describe specific situations in which people might apply the text in specific ways. We need to witness for Christ, we can describe a particular scenario: “Perhaps the guy in the next cubicle at work does not know Jesus. You’ve shared numerous conversations around the coffee pot about the weather and ballgames, but you haven’t yet mustered the never to mention you faith. Perhaps you can begin by telling of…” (126). Bringing applications to the lived in situation of our hearers makes the call to proclaim the gospel much more real and honest. I would add that often times the seemingly surface conversations can easily lead to greater depth of issues involving morality and faith if we ask the right questions. Daniel’s insistence to stimulate the listener’s imagination gives a hearer an opportunity to see what could happen if they dreamed big and acted in ways that God was calling them to act.
I really appreciated Daniel’s ideas concerning understanding cultural capital for use in sermons; namely movies and fiction. As Daniel writes, “Culture communicates its values and worldviews through various means, including its literature” (307). Imbedded in literature are beliefs and actions that are indicative of both the values, norms, judgments, and worldview of its readers. Even if these values and worldviews are inimical towards a biblical worldview, understanding these things will help us reach our listeners where they find themselves. I would add that understanding the narrative structure and plot of great literature helps us draw people in closer to the biblical narrative, because great works of art imitate the greatest narrative by way of understanding human nature, creation, and redemption. Daniel is right to connect the emotional plight that characters go on with the points in our sermon we are trying to connect with our listeners.
I really enjoyed reading this book because it challenged me to think outside the box when preparing my sermons. Rather than going through it a rather mechanical way, I now have some more tools to help encourage my listeners on their path of faith.
Thanks to Kregel Ministry for the copy of this book in exchange for review.