Some years ago when I was serving as a parish pastor an older fellow with a wily streak came up to shake hands after the service. He handed me a nickel.
"Well, pastor, I was feeling bad."
With the hint of wry smile, "I overheard someone in the line say that you were the poorest preacher they ever heard. So, here you go."
Preaching is no easy thing. Listening to preaching is no easy thing either. As one who is a preacher, a listener, and a teacher of preachers, I have the good pleasure of experiencing this thing called preaching from a variety of vantage points: from the pulpit, from the pew, and in the classroom.
As I've taught over the years and listened to hundreds of sermons, I've spent time on behalf of my students and the church critiquing what's available on the internet for those who preach. While there are still fine print resources being published, increasingly preachers are looking for resources on the web which with any luck are both faithful and free. As anyone who has spent some time evaluating internet resources for preachers will tell you the virtual tons of stuff that is "out there" runs the gamut from helpful, faithful, and grounded (e.g. Day1, Working Preacher, Blue Letter Bible, etc.) to vacuous, heretical, and downright deceitful (e.g. these shall remain nameless).
Switching vantage points, there just isn't much on the internet for those who listen to preaching. For the poor folks who listen to their pastor/priest/minister bang on each week. For the wonderful folks who support by way of poking fun with an old nickel. For the hungry folks wanting... needing to hear God's Word. For the curious folks who want to engage with the preaching more deeply.
I have put together a free web-based resource for these listeners: WithEarsToHear.org (www.withearstohear.org). This resource is an attempt to engage those who listen with some basic biblical grounding in what we expect in the preaching event, some strategies for listening, and some basic entry points for becoming familiar with the biblical texts to be preached upon. The goal of the website is to orient the ear toward what is truly evangelical... what is truly good news.
In a certain sense, this is an experiment to see if preaching can be vitalized (perhaps even revitalized on occasion) from the vantage of the pew. In a North American Christian context where style and puff are often valued over gospel depth and sincerity, what might happen if we encourage parishioners to engage with the proclamation of the church more fulsomely?
An encouragement and an ask: I encourage you to have a look at WithEarsToHear.org. Critique it. Question it. Try it out. Like it on Facebook. And, share feedback with yours truly. Of course, I think it's good stuff. At the same time, I welcome constructive criticism in order that it be even better stuff - that it might be a resource that is useful to as many as possible. I ask that you share it with those who listen. I have access to many who preach. Preachers have access to many, many more who listen.
I still have that old nickel together with the memories of a friendly, faithful, and wily parishioner now among the great cloud of witnesses. The nickel serves as a reminder of the wild dynamics of this holy thing we call proclaiming the Word of God.
Associate Professor of Homiletics & Biblical Interpretation
Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, USA