Digging deeper (beyond a review and key takeaways, Big Idea #1: Series, and Big Idea #2, Always Be Evangelizing) with Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran’s Rebuilding Your Message (2015), today I’m pulling highlights about the systematic side of regular preaching–stuff that can benefit even the most spiritually graced preacher with natural and developed talents. These are ideas that can help a parish with a prayerful and gifted preaching pastor (or pastors) move from a place known for transformative and authentic individual Eucharistic homilies, to a place where that powerhouse preaching of the Word of God spills over, shapes, and colors entire systems within the parish.
Communication is always a two-ways endeavor. The best preaching (on paper/in theory) isn’t the best if it’s not fully heard in a way that leads to life-changing shifts in attitude or action. The most gifted and well-formed preachers and communicators can benefit by considering the process and systems for communication as a whole in the parish. How does the Sunday Eucharistic homily connect to everything in parish life?
Key Lessons for Great Parishes/Preachers from Rebuilding Your Message:
1. Have a Preparation Process that’s More than One. Outstanding preachers already know that preparing takes time. But what about when there are more and more demands on your time (especially as a priest)? Have a process. “If you develop a basic process for preparation and presentation, you will find it much easier to survive and even thrive in communication” (41). And, bring all of your assets into this process/system, “while only [Father] Michael can preach it [Eucharistic homily], several people help to write the message” (41). This sets the conditions for sustainable quality.
But, don’t let it end with proximate preparation for a Eucharistic homily. Have a system for the message to overflow! [Patrick Lencioni does a great job describing this in The Advantage, naming it cascading communication.] “Regardless of the size of your parish, and the size of your staff, a team of people is the key to effective communication” (202). “This requires internal communication that precedes your general or church-wide communication” (202). The odea is that every children’s liturgy of the word leader, every usher, every deacon, etc. are all on the same page about the key messages of a particular homily/series
2. Use Series (p. 128-129). Now, we’ve talked about series in general before (and here’s Fr. White’s personal blog-pitch) but what I want to emphasize here is that using a series is not a crutch. Not some type of aid for those who “aren’t good” at preaching God’s Word. Taking the time to systematically plan series of sermons into the liturgical year is about the hearers, especially the unevangelized or those needing to take further steps as disciples. Here’s why: a) series develop into conversations among hearers–conversations keep the message in our minds and spur us to go deeper, b) a single message rarely converts minds or hearts (see strategy # 7 here), and c) a series creates alignment and focus in the parish, to “move the parish in a disciplined direction,” with a series (vs. a stand-alone, one Sunday theme) adult formation, youth ministry, and children’s formation can all move together, so that families and friends can support each other–so that synergy happens. It takes momentum to get things rolling in people’s lives, and the power of a series theme to align everything in parish life for a particular season helps create that momentum.
3. Plan Long Term. “You should plan all your communication as far in advance as possible. If you’re preaching, plan out a season or even an entire liturgical year. If you’re teaching or responsible for adult faith formation, look ahead each semester to the next semester (56).” This ensures all of the communications (preaching and teaching especially) tend toward a central vision, and every key leader in parish life can align their work and ministry to support it optimally. This also saves time–since by having a “lens” of a long term plan, staff and key volunteers can be on the lookout for examples and opportunities to connect to preaching themes. [Because seriously, emphasizing local testimonies or examples is way better than using an Internet search engine to find “off the shelf” pastoral examples for preaching!]
4. Resound the Message. Find ways to re-emphasize and repeat (with slightly difrerent messengers, twists, formats, etc.) your well-planned Sunday Eucharist messages. One of my favorite ways Church of the Nativity (the authors of Rebuilding Your Message) do this is by using what they call endnotes. Endnotes happen after Mass and include another statement of gratitude and encouragement to visitors, “sum up the homily,” and “remind people what our basic message was and the challenge offered to them in the message”–“a bottom line that they can carry with them out of Mass and into their week” (108-109). Usually this includes a concrete action-step, something that week they can do that supports the main message of the homily. For example:
- A prayer card after a message on worry
- Breakout talks/sessions on relationship issues (i.e. married couples, caregiver relationships, parents of teens, etc.) after a homily series called “Tough Love”
- Invitation cards to hand out to unchurched friends after a homily series on evangelization
Endnotes are rehearsed, not a reading of announcements (at Nativity this happens before Mass, since “regulars” more so than guests are likely to be there early and have a need to hear announcements). The speaker for Endnotes is polished and is aiming to make a solid impression. It’s key that the speaker (ideally) not be the celebrant or homilist–since having different faces and voices for the same message helps it to resonate more, to be more memorable, and to potentially give an alternate path to “hearing” if someone had a “block” (of language, internal bias, etc.) that impacted the hearing of the homily.
5. Integrate Concrete, Local Action. Let the Eucharistic homily truly be for this particular community. If a homily is about relationships in the Christian life, talk about small-groups (and ideally be having small-group launches soon in your parish!). If it’s about repentance, talk Confession times, etc. (162).
6. Go from Audience to Audiences. Speak to different places of faith. “Comfort outsiders” by acknowledging them, but also making it clear what’s not for them–i.e. discerning percentile giving (aka tithing), praying about how to take a step into local mission, etc. (182). Say it aloud. This is not for you. On the other hand, make it clear that for longtime parish attendees, you’re asking them to take concrete steps in discipleship, to commit to prayer, to serve, etc. Don’t be afraid to speak to different audiences (i.e. youth, parents, etc.) in giving applications for a homily focus (198).
Interested in learning more? Check out these podcasts and share your insights in the Comment Box.
Rebuilt Podcasts (related to this post):
- #60 Delivering Quality Messages
- #54 Developing a Message Series Calendar
- #38 Developing a Message Series
- #11 Endnotes
- #10 Message Series Start to Finish
- #40 Going Deeper into the Message
- #47 Message Development
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