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Preaching, by Fred B. Craddock, Abingdon Press, 1985.

Craddock Stories, by Fred B. Craddock, edited by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, Chalice Press, 2001.

I decided I had not spent nearly enough time with preaching icon Fred Craddock. When I went to seminary in the late 1990’s, Craddock’s inductive, narrative preaching still reigned supreme, but he was no longer the lone voice for this conversational style. We read bits and pieces of his work scattered among others, but I had never read his classic textbook, Preaching. There are two reasons for taking it up now: 1) After a decade of preaching myself, I felt the need for a refresher course and new perspective on this weekly endeavor; and 2) I recently purchased the volume Craddock Stories, which is just what it sounds like—a collection of the preaching stories that make Fred Craddock such a legend.

In spite of being one of those people who only dives into one book at a time, I decided to read these two simultaneously. I would read some portion of the textbook, then spend time reading story after story drawing out the practices he described. When I didn’t have the energy to plow through the textbook, I just enjoyed the stories as they were. I highly recommend this strategy to anyone. If I had it to do over again, I would add a collection of Craddock’s full sermons to the mix. Each one enriched and completed the other, for an immersion in Craddockisms for awhile.

To be honest, I don’t think I could have ever read either volume in its entirety if I wasn’t already a practicing preacher. It is a perfect example of “just in time training” for me. As a seminarian, I craved a preaching textbook. I did not have the foggiest idea how  to write a sermon. I had heard quite a few, but I didn’t know how the preacher ever came up with something to say and how to say it. I wanted someone to give me step-by-step instructions. No one ever did.

There is something about preaching that requires you to dive right in, and pray for patience on the part of the congregations that must endure. Any preacher’s first attempts at sermonizing are halting, stilted and unformed. God bless those congregations that give preachers pulpit space for formation! Craddock offers a wonderful synopsis of a step-by-step process, but I would not have understood it if I was not already a working preacher. Sermon-writing process is something that cannot be taught. It may be encouraged and mentored, but it develops in its own way for each preacher.

What I loved most about Preaching was the attention to the experience of the congregation. At every turn, Craddock reminds the preacher that she is not building an idea, or a manuscript, or a concept–the preacher is an artist, creating an encounter and an experience with the biblical text. In reading Craddock Stories, I experienced that encounter and the emotions that accompany it. In reading Preaching, I contemplated how to create that encounter for others.

I read the entire volume of Craddock Stories, several hundred, and did not once think, “I can use that in my sermon on…” It would have been like lying, or plagiarism, even with proper citations. My voice is my own–immersing myself in Craddock’s voice only strengthened my desire to cultivate my unique style. I was also intrigued to notice that Craddock’s amazing tales were not as amazing as I always thought they were. I thought he was blessed to pull a wealth of stories from some exotic childhood and wild ministry experiences. When I read through the compendium, however, I realized that his stories were not so special after all. I have a lifetime full of stories just as good as his are. What makes his so powerful is that they are so authentic, and so intimately and thoughtfully connected to the Gospel he is preaching. I have all the experiences and stories I need from my own life to do just that. In reading Preaching, I believe he would be delighted for someone to realize his stories are not great because they are great stories–but because they are ordinary stories, which enables them to connect the Gospel to ordinary people like us.

Fred Craddock is still a preaching icon, and will remain so. I don’t know if I would recommend reading Preaching to any seminarians, but it is a treasure trove for a working preacher or a just-starting-out preacher, especially when accompanied by Craddock Stories and Craddock sermons.

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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