Book Reviews

Book Review: Training Preachers (ed. Scott Gibson)

It’s one thing to learn how to preach, but how do you teach someone to preach? How do you style your class? How much do you lecture, dialogue, and have your students write and give their sermons? In a class where students will have to stand before their peers (and their professor) and perform their sermons, how do you make your students feel comfortable? Scott Gibson has brought together a team of preaching professors who have either an undergraduate or graduate degree in education (xi). These are teachers/pastors who both do teach and who know how to teach. 

Chapter 1 gives a historical look at how the preaching professor and the teaching of preaching has influenced the development of theological education in the States. Chapters 2-4 focus on educational theory in teaching. I found these chapters to be very helpful because I don’t know much about educational theory at all. Patricia Batton (ch 2) writes “to motivate you to invest in learning educational theory” (28). If that sounds like “an impossible mountain of goo,” the rest of the book’s chapters shape that goo into “a hike-able hill” (28). First, just as a pastor must assess his audience, so should the preaching teacher assess theirs. Teachers need to ask, “Who is my audience?” They need to know (1) how people learn and (2) how to help people learn. Students have different reasons for taking a preaching class. Perhaps they aim to be preachers, they know they will preach, or because the class is a requirement. People who fall into category 3 (which was me), are less likely to perform well, doing the work just because they have to rather than because they find “positive value” in the activities (29). Teachers need to assess their students and think about how they can show how learning preaching, which includes all of the class activities, can be meaningful and is important. 

Victor Anderson (ch 3) looks at knowledge and learning, specifically how a person learns. People learn by reflecting and acting upon knowledge that is both abstract and concrete. Since not everyone learns in the same ways, professors will need to encourage their students to experiment with their preaching and to try different methods. As well, rather than only lecturing, professors should practice having more dialogue with their students, “true” dialogue where “the student’s perspective is truly valued and affirmed” (48). Students often grow through the conversations they have with their professors outside of class. What if students (and more of them at once) could have these conversations inside class? 

John Tornfelt (ch 4) emphasizes students’ learning styles—

  • personality models—people’s deepest characteristics “shape their worldviews, impact how they manage tasks, and affect how they interact with people” (64). 
    • Myers-Briggs type indicator
    • Herrman’s brain dominance model
  • information processing models reflects “how people gather, sort, store, and utilize information to learn” (67). 
  • social interaction models “considers how personal contacts and social settings impact learners’ abilities to gather and utilize information” (70). 
    • These models look at whether students are curious learners or not, are collaborative or competitive, or how sure people are in what they know. 
  • instructional preference models are based on how students prefer to learn. 
    • Professors need to try to be “all things to all people,” being wiling to change their styles (to a degree) to better fit how people learn. 
    • But students need to be willing to get out of their comfort zones. 
    • Not every student will be satisfied. 

Tony Merida (ch 5) reminds professors that their goal is training an army of “faithful and effective biblical preachers” (77). Both he and Blake Newsom (ch 6) flood a freshly minted preaching professor with what they need to know. You need to know homiletics, preaching (sermon development and delivery-ch 6), your heart, your students and their hearts, and much more. There’s a lot of good stuff here, but I couldn’t help but think “How could I keep up with all of this?” However, I’m not a homiletics professor. For you who are, these two chapters will be immensely helpful guides. 

Sid Buzzell (ch 7) helps you develop a good syllabus and how to assess learning levels and state clear instructional outcomes (ch 8). Chapters 1-6 will bolster your effectiveness in writing a syllabus. Read those chapters first. Chris Rappazini (ch 9) wants you to cultivate a culture of feedback beginning on day one. This involves teaching how to give effective feedback or having students turn in their outlines ahead of time to see where they need to put more work. Rappazini answers four questions at the end, such as how to respond to a student who challenges your grading or what to do if you find someone has committed plagiarism. Timothy Bushfield (ch 10) encourages you to to continue preaching (and loving it!) so that you can instill a love for preaching in your students. Preaching is a skill, an art, and all preachers need to find their own voice. One teaches with trajectory by developing methods and mechanisms that will help your students to continue growing long after they graduate. 

Recommended?

These are only summaries of each chapter, and poor ones at that. The chapters aren’t too long, but they are pretty thick. There is a lot of helpful information here, and the footnotes, especially in the chapters on educational theory (chs 2-4), are a goldmine. If you are a professor preparing to teach preaching, it would behoove you to pick up this book and make good use of it. 

Lagniappe

  • Editor: Scott M. Gibson 
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (March 20, 2019)

Buy it on Amazon or from Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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