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Course Syllabus - RV-01 - Introduction to Homiletics

by Richard Voelz

This course is an introduction to theories and practices of preaching in pastoral and liturgical settings. In lecture sessions, students will study the various dynamics of preaching (theological, hermeneutical, pastoral, exegetical, ethical, liturgical) and their relation to the regular practice of preaching. In conference/video call sessions and through online forums, students will discuss assignments, participate in workshops, preach, and offer feedback on colleagues’ sermons.


  1. To discover and develop one’s voice and sense of authority for preaching.
  2. To begin to articulate a "theology of preaching," a "theology for preaching," and "theology from preaching."
  3. To incorporate responsible methods of biblical interpretation for preaching.
  4. To learn various approaches of sermon development and performance.
  5. To begin to think about and practice preaching that is shaped by (a) responsible understandings of social location and (b) an appreciation of God’s justice and love.
  6. To experience the formative power of giving and receiving feedback on sermons.
  7. To begin to think about homiletics’ relationship to other disciplines both in the theological academy and beyond.
  8. To begin or continue a life-long journey toward becoming a competent and confident preacher within one’s tradition.

Required Textbooks

  • Thomas, Frank A. - They Like to Never Quit Praisin' God : The Role of Celebration in Preaching. Cleveland, OH: United Church Press, 1997
  • Allen, Ronald J. - Thinking Theologically : The Preacher as Theologian, Elements of Preaching Series. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.
  • McClure, John S. - Preaching Words : 144 Key Terms in Homiletics. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.
  • Long, Thomas G. - The Witness of Preaching. 2nd ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.

Additional Readings

I will regularly assign additional readings which are listed on specific class days. These readings will be available through the course website.

Course Requirements and Expectations

  1. Participation: Students are expected to attend to all dimensions of the class. Students should make all possible efforts to contact me if they anticipate difficulties in access or participation. Preaching assignments require a great deal of schematic scheduling for everyone in the class and, as such, re-scheduling is nearly impossible. Only for the most extreme cases will students be allowed to reschedule sermons. The preaching classroom operates best when the entire class covenants together to learn from/with each other, trust one another, and support one another. Lack of participation will take away from that learning covenant and impoverish everyone’s experience.
  2. Preparation: Students are expected to have prepared reading assignments and any written assignments prior to coming to intensive sessions. This means bringing appropriate readings and/or notes on readings for that day.
  3. Class participation assignments: During the course, there will be six class participation assignments, to be turned in no later than 5pm prior to the next day’s intensive. Assignments will involve written exercises. Late assignments will not be accepted. Assignments should critically and carefully engage any reading assignments, class lectures, and discussions. Each assignment will be worth twenty points and together will compose 20% of the student’s grade.
  4. In addition, each student will participate in the online discussion forum after each intensive session. The instructor will assign different students each week to pose questions or discussion prompts for the class based on readings, discussion, and/or lecture items each week. Students are responsible for engaging the forum each week.
  5. Sermons and audience: Each student will preach 2 sermons in class during the course. The first sermon will come from a Hebrew Bible text and the second from a New Testament text. Both texts will come from the relevant church season (Fall: Advent; Spring: Lent). Students will choose from text selections provided by the instructor. Sermons will be no less than twelve minutes and no longer than fifteen minutes. In terms of audience, the class will be your congregation or, if available, the student’s congregation. Students will be required to use a manuscript for the first sermon. Manuscript use will be optional for the second sermon, depending on the student’s comfort level, though students are still required to submit a manuscript. Each sermon will be worth sixty points (see below) and each sermon will compose 20% of the student’s grade.
  6. Submitting sermons: No later than 5:00 pm on the day before preaching, students’ sermon manuscripts and cover sheet/contracts should be e-mailed or handed to the professor. Cover sheets/contracts should be e-mailed to the entire class or small group, as determined by the size of the class and instructor’s discretion. [Cover sheets/contracts will be explained below.] Late sermons will be docked a full letter grade, no exceptions.
  7. Each student will avail themselves of the proper media to record and upload sermons to the class website. Questions about this should be referred to Atlanta United Divinity Center’s tech support staff.
  8. Individual and Group Feedback: Each student will conference with the instructor, usually within a week, to discuss the sermon recording. This will occur for both sermons. Depending on class size, students will offer feedback in the online forum on other students’ sermons. The instructor will communicate details when final class size is determined. See the final page of this syllabus for guidelines on giving feedback.
  9. Sermon reflection papers: Students will write a 500 word (double spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font, 1 inch margins) reflection on their sermons after preaching, group supervision, individual supervision, and any hopes/desires for the next sermon. Papers should include reflection on the experiences of development and performance of the sermon, the elements of the sermon supervision contract, the experiences of group and individual supervision, and conversation with any aspect of pertinent class readings/discussions. Sermon reflection papers will be worth twenty points each and will compose 10% of the student’s grade.
  10. Final paper: Students will write a 1500 word paper (double spaced, 12 point font, 1-inch margins), due by the date and time of the course’s official end date. The paper should be a critical engagement with the student’s theological definition of preaching and understandings of her/his role as preacher. This is not a research paper, but should utilize reference to class readings, previous assignments, lectures, discussions, and any outside references the student deems important. This paper will be worth twenty points and will compose 10% of the student’s grade.
  11. Honor system: Students are expected to conduct their work with integrity, and in concordance with the school’s policy on plagiarism. We will discuss using and citing sources in preaching in the session on language and imagery.
  12. Disability accommodations: If you believe you have a condition that will require accommodation, please contact the instructor. Please review this syllabus carefully and make an appointment with the instructor to discuss any assignments for which you believe you will need accommodation.
  13. Use of inclusive language: For written assignments, class discussions, and sermons delivered in class, students will be expected to be familiar with and adhere to use of inclusive language for God and human beings.

Sermon Grading and Supervision Contracts:

Sermons will be graded on the following criteria:

  1. Careful work with biblical texts
  2. Sensitive attention to the dynamics of church and culture
  3. Evidence of significant theological reflection
  4. Appropriate embodiment and performance (including evidence of preparation and practice, vocal dynamics, use of the body)
  5. Clear, significant, and memorable message
  6. Delivered with energy and integrity consistent with the preacher’s emerging identity and context.

In addition to submitting sermon manuscripts, students will submit sermon supervision contracts that highlight the student’s areas of concern and growth. Students will identify 3-5 areas of concern and growth that come from the above list whether they come directly from the list, represent components of one, or as variations of these. In addition, students will also add two criteria for reflection that represent your preaching identity, context, and/or tradition. These contracts will help guide our sermon feedback/supervision process.

Course Grading

  • Written Class Assignments (6): 20%
  • Attendance and Participation: 20%
  • Sermon 1: 20%
  • Sermon 2: 20%
  • Sermon Reflections (2): 10%
  • Final Paper: 10%

Schedule of Lectures and Assignments

October 7, 2013

Session 1a: Introduction to the course and syllabus

    • Why "Homiletics" Why Preach?
    • Read: Ronald J. Allen, Interpreting the Gospel: An Introduction to Preaching (Ch. 1 and 2; pp. 1-18) and McClure, Preaching Words: gospel, proclamation, purposes, sermon

Session 1b: Unclean Lips and Beautiful Feet: Authority and Voice

    • Read: Turner and Hudson, Saved From Silence: 6-17, 48-58, and 82-96 and McClure, PW: authenticity, authoritarian, authority, voice
    • Assignment 1: Voice – Describe a time when you felt like your voice was denied. Describe a time when you felt like your voice was valued. Who or what empowered you? If you are willing/able, describe a time when you denied someone else a voice. Explore these situations and how they relate to your voice as a preacher.

Session 2a: Like Fire Shut Up in My Bones: Calling

    • Read: Exodus 3; Esther 2-4; Isaiah 6:1-13; Jeremiah; Luke; Acts 9:1-19 and Tisdale in Best Advice for Preaching and David M. Greenhaw, "Call" in New Interpreter’s Handbook of Preaching (pp. 223-225) and McClure, PW: call
    • Assignment 2: Calling – How is it that you understand your call to preach (NOTE: not call to ministry, but call to preach)? How did your call arrive (or perhaps you’re still awaiting the call!)? What have been the affirmations or roadblocks to your call? If you do not sense a call, then what motivates you to preach or even take this course?

Session 2b: Preparing to Preach: The Spiritual Life of the Preacher

    • Read: Anna Carter Florence, Preaching as Testimony, ch. 7 and Barbara Brown Taylor, "Devotional Life/Life-Style" in NIHB (pp. 227-229) and Richard Lischer, "Before Technique: Preaching and Personal Formation" in Dialog, Vol. 29, no. 3, 178-182 and McClure, PW: character, ethos

October 14, 2013

Session 3a: What Are We Doing?: Images of Preaching

    • Read: Long, ch. 1; Thomas, ch. 2 and McClure, PW: fool, herald, kerygma and didache, witness
    • Assignment 3: Pick one of the images of the preacher you’ve read about or develop one of your own (feel free to be creative!). What does it say about who the preacher is and what she/he is doing? What does it say about God, Bible, listeners, world? Trace the implications in the image, both positive and negative.

Session 3b: What Is God Doing?: Theology of Preaching

    • Read: McClure, PW: theology of preaching, Word of God

Session 4a: Engaging Theological Contexts: Theology and Preaching

    • Read: Ronald J. Allen, Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian and McClure, PW: theology and preaching
    • Assignment 4: Complete the theological profile in Allen’s book and reflect on what you find in 500 words.

Session 4b: Engaging Liturgical and Ecclesial Contexts

    • Read: Tisdale, Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art, ch. 2-3 and McClure, PW: congregational study, empathy, homily, liturgical preaching, pastoral preaching, prophetic preaching

Session 4c: Engaging Social and Cultural Contexts

    • Read: Nieman and Rogers, Preaching to Every Pew, ch. 1 and McClure, PW: gender, contextual preaching, multicultural preaching, pluralism.

October 21, 2013

Session 5: Engaging Scripture

    • Read: Long, ch. 2-3; Thomas, 51-80 and Braxton, Preaching Paul, ch. 4 and McClure, PW: biblical preaching, hermeneutics, law and gospel, lectio continua, lectio selecta, lectionary, text-to-sermon method, topical preaching.
    • Assignment 5: Hebrew Bible exegesis – Submit a 2-page exegetical report on your sermon text. More details on the class website.

Session 6a: Sermon Organization and Movement (Part 1)

    • Read: Thomas, 80-106 and Long, ch. 4-5 and McClure, PW: celebration; code; culture, homiletic; expository preaching; focus and function; idea; logos

Session 6b: Sermon Organization and Movement (Part 2)

    • Read: McClure, PW: body of the sermon; conclusion; contrapuntal; design; form; deductive sermon; expository preaching; inductive sermon; introduction; move; narrative preaching; plot; structure; transition and Long, ch. 6

Student Sermons: Hebrew Bible texts

October 28, 2013

Session 7a: Imagery and Language

    • Read: Long, ch. 7-8 and McClure, PW: humor; identification; illustration; image; imagination; language; metaphor; metonymy; pathos; performative language; self-disclosure; synecdoche; title and McClure, "The Other Side of Sermon Illustration" in Journal for Preachers, 12 no 2 Lent 1989, p 2-4

Session 7b: Engaging the Body: Performance in Preaching

    • Read: Chapters 1, 7, 11 from Performance in Preaching and McClure, PW: articulation, audible, aural, delivery, drama, embodiment, facial expression, gesture, inflection, kinesics, manuscript, notes, performance, performative language, posture, projection, rate

Session 8a: Preaching and Justice

    • Read: McClure, PW: anti-Judaism, authoritarian, disability, ethics, inclusive language, prophetic preaching, plagiarism and Christine Smith, Preaching as Weeping, Confession, and Resistance, pp. 1-6 and Charles Campbell, The Word Before the Powers, pp. 1-23

Session 8b: Contemporary Homiletical Theories and Models

    • Read: McClure, PW: collaborative preaching, deconstruction, feminist preaching, listener, Listening to Listeners Project, narrative preaching, New Homiletic, pluralism, postliberal preaching, postmodern preaching, testimony, wager
    • Assignment 6: New Testament exegesis – repeat the process of the Hebrew Bible text with your NT text.

Session 8c: Occasional Preaching

    • Read: McClure, PW: funeral sermon, occasional preaching, wedding homily

Student Sermons: New Testament texts.

Final paper due by closing date of class, TBD.

Small Group Feedback

Feedback is a way of helping another person to consider changing his/her behavior. It is communication to a person which gives that person information about how he/she affects others. Such feedback can provide learning opportunities for each of us if we can use the reactions of others as a mirror for observing the consequences of our behavior. It also helps to make us aware of what we can do and how we do it, thus increasing our ability to change our behavior and to come more effective in our dealings with others. Here are some rules for feedback in sermon groups:

Feedback is directed toward behavior rather than the person.

It is important that we refer to what a person does rather than comment on what we imagine he/she is. For example, we might say a person "seemed to speak rather loud for this room," rather than that this person "is a loudmouth." Focusing on behavior implies that it is something related to a specific situation that might be changed. It is less threatening to a person to hear comments about his/her behavior than his/her "personality."

It is specific rather than general.

To be told that one is "dominating" will probably not be as useful as to be told that "as you were preaching, I felt forced to accept your arguments or face attack from you."

It is descriptive rather than judgmental.

When we describe a person, we report what occurred. However, when we are judgmental, we make an evaluation in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, nice or not nice. Judgments arise out of a personal code of values, whereas descriptions represent neutral (as far as possible) reporting. Instead of saying "you made this terrible gesture two or three times" you might say "you made this gesture two or three times and I was wondering what you meant by it."

Focus feedback on the amount of information that the person receiving it can use, rather than on the amount that you have which you might like to give.

Overloading a person with feedback reduces the possibility that he/she may use what he/she receives effectively. When we give more than can be used, we may be satisfying some need for ourselves rather than helping the other person.

Focus feedback on the sharing of ideas and information rather than on giving advise.

By sharing ideas and information, we leave the person free to decide for him/herself. When we give advice, we tell him/her what to do with the information, and in that sense we take away his/her freedom to determine for him/herself what is for him/her the most appropriate course of action.

When receiving feedback, focus on what is said rather than why it is said.

To make assumptions about the motives of the person giving feedback may prevent us from hearing or cause us to distort what is said. That is, if we question why a person gives us feedback, we may not hear what he/she says.

Feedback should be checked to insure clear communication.

One way of doing this is for the receiver to try to rephrase the feedback he/she has received to see if it corresponds to what the sender had in mind.

Focus feedback on positive aspects of behavior as well as negative ones.

It is important to point out effective (positive) behaviors as well as less-effective (negative) behaviors. Not only does this make it easier for a person to receive feedback, but it helps all members of the group to learn what constitutes appropriate behavior.