Jan Brittain – Preaching

March 12, 2020

Jan Brittain, Elder, Williamson’s Chapel UMC

What is the most challenging thing for you when it comes to preaching?
The most challenging task for me is trying to sit where the listeners sit. Once I have what I believe is the message of the text, I try to think about real people who will be sitting in the congregation listening. I think about a single mom, a person recently diagnosed with cancer, someone grieving the loss of a loved one, a teenager, a young adult, a couple with marital problems, someone new to the faith. I try to imagine how this message will intersect with their current circumstances, ask the questions they would ask, and discern how they might react. I then use those reflections in an attempt to preach in ways that are meaningful to those with a very different personal setting than my own – to bring the Bible to their lives.
What is the most rewarding thing?
My greatest joy is found in preaching. The word of God has been such a blessing in my life. Making it a bit more accessible and maybe a bit more relevant for others is my aim in preaching. When that happens …. I feel a great sense of reward and thankfulness.
What has changed about preaching over your years of ministry?
I’ve always been pretty emotional and enthusiastic in my preaching. But I believe that has increased over the years. I remember my lawyer brother saying early on that I would be a good preacher for the same reason he would be a good lawyer. We were both willing to risk complete humiliation for the sake of making a point. Over the years, I believe there has been an increased sense of urgency in my preaching. Maybe that’s because of the world circumstance or simply because of my aging and realizing I have fewer years left to preach. I am now happy to sacrifice perfect for the sake of power.
Is there a certain “style” or preaching that you often use and why?
I suspect others would say that I default to an evangelistic style. But I really try to change things up in accordance with the tone and posture of the text itself. If it’s a teaching text --- I have at times sat on a stool like a teacher. When the text is demanding, I try to sound demanding. When it is comforting, I try to model that.
It seems that my style is also shaped by the setting. We have four very distinctive services. I think my presentation is very much shaped by that. First, there is an informal traditional service in the original Sanctuary – now Chapel -- where I pretty much stay behind the pulpit and there are very few audio-visual aids. Then, a praise and worship service where I move across the whole chancel area. Third a new service in the Fellowship Hall where I sit at a bistro table, standing and walking at times to make a point. And finally, the traditional formal service in the Sanctuary where I am in a robe and stay in and around the pulpit. The actual delivery is very similar but the perception and effect is evidently, very different. 

What counsel would you offer those who preach?
  • The time you spend preaching and preparing to preach is the most important work you do. No matter the size of your congregation, you will interact with more people through your sermon than you will through all your other “pastoral responsibilities” that week --- combined. Give your sermon the attention and the time it needs. Make it count.
  • When people sit to listen to you preach, they give you their greatest possession --- their time. Other than school, there are virtually no other settings in today’s society where people are given that amount of time to speak and be heard. Make it count.
  • Pray over your sermons start to finish.
  • Remember, you have a pulpit and others don’t. Be careful not to use that gift for your own personal agendas.
  • Never convey a message to a specific person through a sermon. That’s what conversation is for.
Do you have any resources, experiences, or books you would recommend?
  • I still like Barclay’s commentary (particularly the gospels) though it is certainly dated. Even so, it’s easily translated to today and the focus is on the layperson.
  • Online I use the illustration database of PreachingToday.com. I find it easy to navigate. The illustrations there come from all facets of life --- historical, sports, pop culture, literature --- so it helps me step out of my personal interest areas when using illustrations. Mostly though, I find that those illustrations remind me of something I have personally experienced or read and I end up using that illustration. Still, it gets the wheels turning.
  • I find that a preacher can actually be his or her own best resource. This takes some time and needs to be intentionally cultivated.
    • Read --- and not just theology. Read good writers in a variety of genres. Read novels and murder mysteries. Read history and biography. Especially read short pieces. Read short stories and essays, even editorials and magazine articles. Note the beginning and the end of these short pieces. Study the craft of writing, the creative and effective use of words. READ
    • Have a structured time of personal Bible Study which includes journaling. This work needs to be unrelated to current sermon preparation though it will be certainly laying the groundwork for future sermons. Immerse yourself in scripture for your own personal spiritual growth.
    • Pay attention to life. Look for possible sermon illustrations in the everyday “stuff” of life.
    • Talk with parishioners --- listen to their life stories.
    • Learn new things. Take classes.  Attend lectures. Try something new.
    • Pray over your sermons from start to finish.
Leadership Development