Preaching by Ear: Speaking God’s Truth from the Inside Out by Dave McClellan with Karen McClellan
Pastor Dave McClellan offers his readers a trip through oral preaching in his new book Preaching by the Ear. No, oral preaching is not preaching without notes but, “speaking from personally held, deep convictions in a way that enables our words to unfold in the moment by considering the actual people present with us. We are well-prepared, but we’re not certain exactly how it will come out of our mouths” (5). This type of preaching is risky business indeed, but it offers the preacher and audience an opportunity to hear a less contrived and more vulnerable message.
One of the fascinating points Dave makes at the beginning of the book concerns eloquence. He writes, “A good preacher, he said, (referring to Augustine), will not be consumed with looking eloquent or sounding eloquent. The good preacher is consumed with the truth of the message, which fuels a sort of unschooled or natural eloquence that is self-forgetful” (14-15). In other words, the preacher doesn’t aim for eloquence but this comes as a by-product of him being immersed in the message, not by seeking to structure a message just right. Seeking to be eloquent out of self-interest limits the opportunity for the preacher to be vulnerable and come to the same page as the audience. Dave admits that we will never completely rid ourselves of self-interest but being aware of doing a good thing with a bad motive is part of the first step.
Dave also shapes his thinking on oral preaching around the ministry of Jesus. After surveying Jesus’ itinerant ministry, Dave writes, “Jesus envisioned their ministry as oral (the disciples). He advocated not an unbridled, purely expressive orality, but one dependent upon divine guidance, even the guidance of the promised Spirit who will “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13)” (79). The disciples were never commissioned or sent off to write all their messages down but to speak words of blessing, greeting, judgment, and God’s loving character in Jesus Christ. This divine guidance given by the Holy Spirit elicited times of orally proclaiming stories that spoke of God’s character but also times where more pointed didactic lessons were in view (Acts 17 is one example). Paul, for one, studied hard to understand both Greek and Jewish culture, but also spoke unscripted as well.
Overall, this book was a challenge to read because I am so drawn to my sermon manuscript at times that I lose connection with the people. With the right dose of wisdom, Dave makes a compelling case for oral preaching.
Thanks to Weaver Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.