Rebuilding Your Message: Big Idea #1, the Series

As promised back in September, I wanted to dig a little deeper (beyond a review and key takeaways) with Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran’s Rebuilding Your Message (2015) and keep this important conversation on preaching going.

One of the interesting things about Rebuilding Your Message is that some big, systemic, significant ideas were embedded within the practical mini-chapters (in an understated way). White and Corcoran (probably wisely) choose not to dig into these since additional depth would distract from their primary focus. However, I think they’re worth pulling out here for furthering discussion.

Big Idea #1 — Message Series

The Rebuilt Parish books have mentioned message series again and again. Series are important for preaching in our cultural context. White and Corcoran advocate for the use of series since it enables a preacher/staff to:

  • avoid starting from a blank slate each week (tie it into something larger)
  • promote conversation among the assembly/parishioners (since they can remember central themes)
  • move the parish in a disciplined direction
  • emphasize liturgical seasons
  • go deeper into specific topics while repeating key themes (128-129).

While Rebuilding Your Message provides lots of short tidbits on crafting sermon/message series, I think given how rare they are in Catholic preaching, a more comprehensive “how to” would be in order. Church of the Nativity has, I recall, devoted a podcast episode to the nuts and bolts behind series planning, but a sequel book from them might be in order to really share this with the wider Catholic community in the United States.

There are some excellent resources on this from our Christian brothers and sisters (I’ve found Adam Hamilton‘s insights into sermon series planning very useful), but a comprehensive guide from a Catholic parish might be what’s needed to spur this forward in more parishes. This guide could discuss liturgical seasons, discerning the local “calendar” and cultural context, relationship to other ministries in the parish, and more.

Using this Big Idea as a discussion springboard:

  • What do you think of sermon series? (in general, at Mass, in any Catholic context?)
  • What hesitations do you have or what holds your ministry back from experimenting with a series?
  • Why do you think that the idea of a “series” has become typical in many growing non-Catholic congregations, yet is startlingly rare in Catholic settings?
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