THERE is some hostility to preaching in the congregations where Doug Gay has been most involved in his ministry. He describes how many collaborators associated with “alternative worship” and “the emerging church” prefer group discussions, meditations, or ritual to the traditional sermon. In such gatherings, the word is heard through “shared communal hermeneutic encounter” with the text rather than presented by one voice. In God Be in My Mouth, Gay welcomes these challenges to “the role and power of the preacher”, while presenting “a fairly conventional view of preaching and the sermon”. The book is in part a reaching towards “a rehabilitation of preaching”.
In this rich and accessible collection of 40 short chapters, Gay discusses his experiences, his inspirations, and the challenges that he finds in preaching. A Lecturer in Practical Theology at the University of Glasgow, the author teaches preaching to ministry students, and it is clear that each of these individual insights has been refined by experience in the pulpit and well-crafted through discussions in the seminar room.
The 40 reflections are arranged to be read thematically, following the headings “Preaching”, “Reading”, “Speaking”, and “Living”; but Gay also encourages readers to “dip into” the book at random “when they are looking for a reminder or a stimulus for their own practice”, in the fashion of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies resource cards.
The author is generous in acknowledging those who have taught him to “grow as a preacher”, and his references range widely from Kirk Moderators to jazz greats. One chapter heading reads: “Don’t preach like Jacob: Learning from Miles Davis”, a meditation on “sounding like yourself” in the pulpit.
The author sparingly gives examples from his own sermons: a remixed Beatitudes illustrating how to let the literary form of scripture inform the sermon, and movingly, a talk at the funeral of a dear friend which dares the gathered community to imagine, with Martin Luther King, the day when the word “death” will be removed from the dictionaries.
Preachers seeking to freshen up their craft will be engaged by Gay’s conversational voice and enriched by his imaginative approach.
The Revd John Davies is Priest-in-Charge of Clapham with Keasden and Austwick with Eldroth, in the diocese of Leeds.
God Be in My Mouth: 40 ways to grow as a preacher
Saint Andrew Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50