Karoline Lewis' powerful and thought-provoking lecture at PRUMC this morning offered preachers "Five Keys to Empowered Preaching." Lewis began with an overview of what prophets are before moving into these five keys. "Prophets in the Old Testament are truth-tellers," she said, "And prophets are only able to tell the future because they see the present reality and what will happen." People also don't want to hear the truth, and so being a prophet, a truth-teller, is difficult work. Further, in order to be a prophetic preacher, "you must be empowered to speak and embody your own truth," she said, leading into her five keys for empowered preaching.
The first key is knowing your Bible. What's in it and what do you care about? Are you a biblical preacher, close to the text? When did you last think about what a text means to you? What kind of authority does the Bible have for you? What's your "go-to" Bible story? All of these questions are important to ask yourself, especially related to preaching. It's also important to be honest with yourself about what is in "your canon within the canon" and how you interpret and relate to Scripture.
The second key is knowing your theology. We all bring many things to the biblical text, we bring our theological framework. We need to know what's at stake for us theologically and what glasses we're wearing or what lens we're seeing through when we engage Scripture. Lewis stressed the need to "Preach the text you have, not the one you wish you had."
The third key is knowing your body. The church is very good at hiding bodies, especially women's bodies. Preachers also sometimes think they need to "get out of the way" and "let the Holy Spirit do it's thing." "What does this even mean?" Lewis exclaimed. "We're here! We don't preach 'disembodiedly.' Be truthful about how your body preaches." God came to us in the flesh, in the incarnation, and so, too, preaching is incarnational.
The fourth key is knowing your leadership. As a pastor and preacher you are always a public leader. Who are you as a leader? What do you reveal about your leadership in your preaching? Who you are in leadership needs be the same person you are in preaching -- "people can smell an inauthentic preacher a mile away." Ask yourself if you are "living and doing ministry in a performative contradiction," and make the necessary changes if you are. Lewis also articulated that leadership necessitates integrating autonomous, relational, and communal aspects, and tending to your core commitments -- balance is a myth. Instead, you tend to what needs tending in your core commitments each day. Your leadership shows up in your preaching, and knowing how these two relate and integrate is essential.
The fifth key is knowing your voice. Your identity -- how has it come to be? What's your story? What character do you reveal, especially in the pulpit? Knowing your voice is knowing your story and who you are. Authenticity is living your life fully awake, fully awake to yourself, the biblical texts, your community. What you say and do are reflective of who you are. Moreover, as you tend to knowing your own voice, you can see where your voice shows up in the biblical texts or not. You can tend to what voices are silenced in biblical texts and what it means for you to fill in the gaps and wonder about those silenced voices. Your identity shapes your preaching in powerful ways.
Knowing your Bible, your theology, your body, your leadership, and your voice play key roles in preaching. Integrating them and being who God calls you to be matter deeply. And, as Lewis said, "God calls you to be you. Otherwise, the incarnation does not matter." Preach like you, fully empowered and embodied.