Usually, I’m the one making book recommendations and people usually ignore them. My wife even has a well rehearsed speech for the dinner guest who has strayed to close to the books in our house. But last week, I met my match and I am reconsidering my approach to book recommendation. From now on, I vow to at least acknowledge that I should wait for requests before making suggestions.
The person in question recommended two books on preaching. The first by Adam Hamilton, and then he snuck a book by Andy Stanley. The last few days I’ve been reading and reviewing Adam Hamilton’s book “Unleashing the Word”. I may have another post in me as I think back on that book, but for now I’m moving on to Andy Stanley’s “Communicating for a Change”.
Andy Stanley books and I have a bit of a history, I tend to think that they are a waste of time. This stems from “The Traveller’s Gift” by Andy Andrews that I always mistake for Stanley for some reason. A kid recommended the book to me, and it was quite possibly one of the worst books ever made popular. It was grammatically well written, but it lacked in just about every other area.
But that wouldn’t be a fair evaluation of a different author, so I did actually read and listen to Andy Stanley. The first was a little hand out book that was given out at the Summit Church in Durham as a greeting gift, and I listened to a few of his sermons and leadership lectures. The book led me to believe that Andy has no real conception of who the God revealed in scripture is and how scripture talks about humanity. His leadership work seems equally uninspiring.
So, I’ll start off with the basic synopsis before I go into my thoughts.
Andy sets off this entire book as a conversation between a wise or experienced older pastor and another person. They go back and for on what you need to be an effective communicator, and you go through the first half of the book really before the Jesus enters into the picture. His insights come through the discussion of his primary character and his interlocutor “Ray”.
I found the overall discussion inane and insultingly simplistic. Andy may be able to communicate, but it’s because he never tries to communicate anything complex or difficult. I’m not sure if he can’t or if he’s just uninterested. He gears his communication level so low that anyone can get it.
He wants people to actually work on their sermons based on what their goals are. While this may seem obvious, I know I have for times in my ministry worked without a direct road map. I don’t imagine that I’m alone in this. This is great encouragement. It is also not terribly surprising.
His tenants of communication revolve around the typical know your goals, know yourself, know your audience, and have an idea in mind for where you are leading people. These are good practical steps in any speaking engagement, and I think his point of finding authenticity in your own voice.
The second half of his book is about figuring out your goals and where you are on your map. But the most useful advice from the whole book came from Bill Hybels just in front of the title page, “For years I’ve encouraged communicators to answer two simple questions before standing up to speak: What do you want your audience to know, and what do you want them to do?”
There is some bad to go with the good. He doesn’t set up any pastoral guidelines for taking the time to do what he has suggested. He doesn’t offer his own experience as an educational tool. There is no vulnerability. He takes on the wise man “Will” role and pilots “Ray” all the way through. Everything is written as if speaking to small children. Perhaps the style is chosen on purpose, but not all preaching is that easy.
Nothing for it, Adam Hamilton at least acknowledges justice issues and ramifications of the gospel in our group behavior. Stanley in my mind does not make room for this at all. What ever the transformative power of the gospel is in his mind, it is not a new community.
You can skim this book in twenty minutes and reference it for the good bits, but I think that sermon work and the creativity that goes along with it needs to begin in prayer. It isn’t about what we want to communicate, and while Andy acknowledges this in some superficial ways, this is not a guide to the spiritual discipline of preaching. Pick up Adam’s book instead.