11 adverbs for good preaching

The best preachers, says Russell Mitman, preach liturgically,  eschatologically, multi-sensorily, and eight more ways that end in -ly.

United Church of Christ minister F. Russell Mitman transfigures the pulpit with his conviction that preaching is more than a seated activity within the walls of the local church. Because “there is one Word, Jesus Christ, who is proclaimed and who is present in an assembly through the Holy Spirit in the actions of Word and Sacrament,” preaching is an event that can only be understood in relationship to the fullness of the liturgy, the presence of the worshiping body, and the illumination of the Spirit.

In other words, preaching is more than a noun. It’s a verb. Mitman also uses gospel as a verb, claiming that a person who proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ “gospels.” Because “preaching is more than a sermon and is the intent of the whole liturgical action,” Mitman writes, “this action is best captured in ad­verbs.” The preacher who gospels is one who preaches biblically, liturgically, sacramentally, evangelically, contextually, invitationally, metaphorically, multisensorily, engagingly, doxologically, and eschatologically. Mitman devotes a chapter to each of these adverbs, illuminating 11 ways preachers can enhance their work.

Mitman portrays preaching most dynamically in the chapters that explore preaching engagingly and doxologically. Here he intentionally removes preaching from a stagnant script, opening it up as a platform for communication between the Holy Spirit, the preacher, and the assembled body of worshipers. Not only is preaching a verb, it’s a conversation that takes place within the liturgy. On preaching doxologically, Mitman notes that “assemblies easily can detect whether the various elements of the service—including the sermon—blend harmoniously or, on the other hand, worshipers are being forced into a discordant maze.” Drawing on a traditional metaphor for the church, Mitman claims that the many parts of a worship service are akin to the different parts of the body of Christ. Without all components in harmony, the liturgy is lacking.