Calvin Miller, a highly respected preacher, talks about reaching people where they are.
Derek Morris: In your book Market place Preaching, 1 you make a strong appeal for us to return the sermon to the market place. What do you mean?
Calvin Miller: I mean that we should start with people where they are, not where we wish they were. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek, which was market place Greek. When it was translated into Latin by Jerome, it was put in vulgar or marketplace Latin. The marketplace is where people live and talk and where they say things in short sentences. Marketplace preaching keeps things in the vernacular. It's a line of conversation that people can under stand. It's what I call preaching in the vulgate. The church once again must learn to preach in the vulgate with marketplace sermons. Preachers must preach conversationally. They must appeal to those outside the church.
DM: So you want to bring the sermon back to where people can understand it.
CM: Yes. I have discovered that to grow a church from ten members to 3,500 members, you have to be able to start where the people are. Jesus Christ was a marketplace Savior. He was even criticized for being too marketplace. You see Jesus perching on the side of a well, trying to engage someone in conversation. The well was a center of activity, the marketplace, so to speak. And I think preaching needs to stay there.
DM: What is the most effective form for the marketplace sermon?
CM: I think story is a powerful form. I'm reading about the way lawyers are using stories. It is rare for a lawyer to present a case without saying, "Here is what happened." And the lawyer tells the jury a story of what happened. I read an article recently in the Wall Street Journal about lawyers using third-person stories to convince the jury that certain things are true. Jesus used parables in the same way.
DM: How do you respond to those who suggest that expository preaching is more powerful than story, or narrative preaching?
CM: I say that the story is the exposition. When Jesus was asked, "Who is my neighbor?" he didn't give a Hebrew root! He said, "A certain man went down to Jericho ..." and He told a story. Ten percent of the Bible is precept and 90 percent is narrative. I think that for the marketplace mind, story is a powerful expositor.
DM: What is the best worship setting for the marketplace sermon?
CM: Marketplace preaching happens most effectively in the context of market place worship. "Vulgate worship," as I call it, must be relational, colloquial, and relevant. It must exist for and be understood by the person on the street. We can no longer build high, thick Gothic walls with colored glass that seems to shut the world out. We must take the message into the world and just preach it out in the open. One of the most impressive things that Leif Anderson ever did was to take his Easter services to the Mall of the Americas. Not a bad idea. That's where the world is passing by. People are passing through the mall, through the food court, not through the church. So you need to take your choir there and tell the story there. This is how Christianity began. And it flourished until they had buildings. Once we took on the provincialized view that we should separate ourselves from others and do our business away from the noise of the marketplace, we were much less effective and successful.
DM: You mention in Marketplace Preaching that the church seems more content to die inside than preach outside. Why do you think it is that way? Are we afraid to preach in the marketplace?
CM: Most of us feel a certain need to protect our testimony and our worship style. Christians are notorious for not wanting to talk about Jesus in the marketplace. They do that at church, but they won't do that at their job or in the mall. We don't want anyone to be rude to us or to not like us for what we believe, so we think it's safer not to say any thing in these settings. But if Christians would talk about Jesus in the marketplace, they would become more credible.
DM: What do you mean when you say that effective marketplace preaching re quires tight preparation and loose delivery?2
CM: One of the great appeals of story is spontaneity. When you hear Fred Craddock spin a yarn, it seems like he is making it up as he goes. But that isn't the case. There is tight preparation. I believe very much in writing out the sermon. I just don't think you can develop effective marketplace sermons without writing. I don't think that you can produce anything that is going to be very enduring without writing it out. Whenever we finish preparing a sermon, we must go through it once more, sentence by sentence, replacing weak words with robust ones. Each of the sermon's key words must sing. Then phraseology has to be memorized. If you are going to use a line or two of a poem, memorize it. Go over everything in your mind until it's absolutely clear.
DM: I hear you saying that the preparation must be tight. But what about the delivery of marketplace sermons?
CM: For the delivery, you need to hang loose. Hang loose enough so that if any thing unexpected happens, you can laugh about it. On one occasion while a preacher was in the middle of the sermon, a little girl broke free, ran down the aisle, and came up onto the stage. The preacher stopped for a moment, picked her up, and said, "Isn't she beautiful?" The crowd broke into applause! And then the preacher said, "I don't know who she is, but you've got 30 seconds to claim her or she's mine!" And then he continued his sermon. This preacher had spent a lot of time in his study, but he was hanging loose in his delivery. He appeared to be human, and humanity more than any other single horizontal quality sells a sermon.
The marketplace preacher has a genuine concern for the people who are hearing the message. This love for the people is even more important than a love for the subject. That's why I advocate "breaking" right be fore the sermon. By that I mean that for the last ten minutes before you preach, stop looking at the manuscript. Get away from it and meet a few people. Allow your hearers to become central. Get out of your document and into them. If you don't do that, you'll be riveted to your document and you won't be able to identify with your hearers.
DM: Another strategy you suggest to connect with your hearers is the casual start, what you call the "speech before the speech."3 What are you trying to accomplish in this casual start to the marketplace sermon?
CM: This is a relational age, but I don't think that seminaries teach relational communication very well. They teach liturgy and high worship, but usu ally they don't touch on relational communication. When church planters go out to the storefront or the mall, they are talking to people who don't know liturgy. We have to start where people are. That's why relational communication is so important. Establishing a speaker-listener relationship is the main key to unlock effective communicating. Not much can happen until friendship is fixed. In the initial moments of building a listener relationship, the key has more to do with feeling than argument. Arguments are not heard until the emotive sense of speakers and listeners have merged. Only after we have reached an involved and relational oneness can we achieve a togetherness in our argument.
DM: I found myself chuckling when I read your marketplace strategies for maintaining the interest of your hearers. You suggest some radical tactics like the napalm file!4 Why is it so important for you to keep the attention of your audience?
CM: Nothing can happen once inter est is gone. Nothing. People will not be inspired by what bores them. They have to be interested then they can be inspired. It hurts when I hear a preacher take a great truth and make it so boring that nobody cares. Interest is a key function in moving people from truth to inspiration and action.
DM: What counsel would you give to a pastor who senses the call to preach marketplace sermons?
CM: Analyze your audience. I take this pretty seriously. Usually, when I receive an invitation to preach, I ask: "Is your church formal or informal?" "How do you dress as a pastor?" "How do your people dress?" You don't want to violate that sense of who people are. When I preached for Will Willimon, I wore a robe, because everybody does. Rick Warren preaches without socks but then people in his church in California go without socks.
Identity is a big issue, and if a preacher goes against that, the people feel distanced from him. So we need to identify with the audience. I also think that a pastor's reading habits will determine his or her effectiveness in the marketplace. Read some novels, biographies, popular psychology. The more widely you can speak names that are authoritative to your audience, the more clout you will have.
And remember, a sermon is never done until the benediction is over. While you are preaching, it can be changed if it's not working. It can be added to, deleted, or even discarded. One morning, a man literally died of a heart attack in our worship service. I don't remember the sermon that day; what I remember is that as the rescue squad came to the church and into the sanctuary, I sat with his widow and prayed with her as the church joined around us in prayer. Those are moments when the preaching is of a totally different nature, but it is loud preaching. It is preaching where the people are in the marketplace.
1. Calvin Miller, Marketplace Preaching: How to Return the Sermon to Where It Belongs (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995).
2. Ibid., 96.
3. Calvin Miller, The Empowered Communicator: 7 Keys to Unlocking an Audience (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 19-24.
4. Ibid, 198,199.