Consider what these early readers are saying about this remarkable book—
By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine
Give a copy of this book to your congregation.
Give a copy of this book to your pastor.
That’s the advice of our Marketing Director Susan Stitt who is doing that in her own Catholic congregation in Georgia.
That’s also what members of the Rev. George A. Mason’s Wilshire Baptist Church are doing. This week, they are collectively giving more than 500 copies of this book to each family within Wilshire’s 2,500-member congregation.
And, while George’s church is Baptist, we already are seeing the interest in this book among readers from a wide range of religious traditions—because good preaching is still one of the most admired forms of media across America. In this book, readers find not only the text of 80 of George’s best sermons from several decades as one of the nation’s most-admired preachers—but also videos of George delivering half of those messages. Those videos are easy to see by clicking a smartphone at QR codes that appear with 40 of the sermons. In addition, other noted authors and scholars add prefaces to the various themed sections of the book to provide thought-provoking context for these messages.
The book does not even officially launch on Amazon until June 27, 2023, but early copies already are circulating among leading Christian writers and preachers.
We’ve been putting Susan’s advice—that it’s a good deed to give a copy of this book to someone—to practice by making sure a handful of influential pastors and writers see this book even before the official June 27 launch date.
And we’ve seen thankful replies come back from readers around the world.
The Rev. Tom Eggebeen is a nationally influential Presbyterian Church USA pastor and preacher, whose sermons also have an online following. Tom emailed us the day after his copy of The Word Made Fresh arrived: “Started reading immediately. I had never heard of Mason, and that’s my loss, because these sermons are seriously impressive and the preface for each section a little tour de force in theology and practice. I will move through this book with care, and learning—I’ve already grabbed a few ideas and phrases I want to use. Glad that this publishing effort will bring to a larger audience his skillful and faithful sermons.”
Best-selling Christian author the Rev. Greg Garrett, an Episcopal priest and canon theologian for the American Cathedral in Paris wrote one of those tour de force prefaces for George’s new book, writing in part: “My friend George Mason is one of the Christian world’s most accomplished preachers and pastors. A writer, teacher, activist and media figure, during 30-plus years as senior pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, he modeled a Christian love of and advocacy for the marginalized, the disdained, the set aside, that feels absolutely like the Jesus I know, love and serve.”
Greg even gave George an international boost by including him in a worldwide Zoom from Paris in late May! And, stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit, because next week we’ll tell the rest of that story of Greg’s current work in Paris.
We’re not only hearing from Protestants and Anglicans. The best-selling Catholic author Chris Stepien opened his copy and immediately emailed us with very high praise, indeed: “Loving the book! Mason is a Baptist Fulton Sheen with a loving heart for the interfaith community!”
The Day1 radio network’s Peter Wallace didn’t want to be left out of this early litany of praise. “I love George Mason! Love the new book. I want to get George back on Day1 again.” For his part, George says he’d like to make a reappearance on Day1, so visit Day1’s website and sign up for updates there.
So, are you ready to jump over and order your copy—and a copy to give to your congregation or your pastor? Well, Amazon offers both hardcover and paperback editions for gift giving that will ship on June 27.
Not yet convinced? Well, just wait a moment: There’s more wisdom below in this ReadTheSpirit cover story from George about why good preaching matters today.
What Is the Goal of Good Preaching?
Because this book contains—by the consensus of early reviewers nationwide—some of the best progressive Christian preaching in America, the first question I asked George in our interview, this week, was:
“Can you tell us how you define good preaching?” I explained my question this way: “Preaching styles vary widely, but there is a core to preaching that you illustrate so well in this book. With each sermon, you’re welcoming people into a much larger community of faith—the timeless calling of Christianity to love God and to love our neighbors. There’s a much larger connection you’re calling people to make, each Sunday morning—right? How do you explain the goal of good preaching?”
George paused, collected his thoughts, and then said:
“Probably the main concern I have is that the big story we are trying to share with the world gets lost in preaching sometimes. The overall theme of redemption, the arc of the biblical story, is not evident in the sermon sometimes. The Gospel itself, the narrative of God’s redemptive work in the world, doesn’t come through in a given sermon that is thematically more narrow.
“As you and I have discussed, David, as we have worked on preparing this book—I think that every sermon has to offer some hope in it, some sense of grace, some vision of the New Creation, some sense of God’s presence that transforms us. Sometimes, there’s a teaching focus in sermons that is too narrow on a particular text and the proclamation is lost in the didactic nature of that specific explanation of a text. So, in a sermon like that, we may come away with a better understanding maybe of a particular slice of a biblical passage—but we may miss the sense that we are caught up in the grand drama of what God is doing in the world.
“This is such an important thing for preachers to recognize: We all are living some kind of story and it’s our job to get the story straight about what the Gospel is and to remind people that they were baptized into this Gospel story. It’s very easy to slip into more of an American story, say, or more of a family story, say, or more of a business story, perhaps—and lose the sense of what your particular place is in this great narrative of what God is up to in our world.
“Related to that is a need for preaching to help shape our souls and our characters in a way that allows us to resist those alternative stories—first to recognize them and then second to resist them and third to be able to be a witness to an alternative way.
“We have to remember what our job is when we’re standing up to preach. Too often we sense that we’re there to entertain because we want people to keep coming back. So, yes, we’re trying to tell good stories. But the stories we need to tell in good preaching are not just the stories that will capture people’s attention. The question is: Why do we tell these stories? What is the point of the stories we choose to tell? How do the stories we tell link to the bigger narrative of God in our world? How does it connect with the stream of God flowing through our world?
“We sometimes are too tempted to entertain or even to pander to the congregation in terms of what would delight them or make them know that we are on their side. In fact, out of love for the Gospel, love for God, love for our calling, sometimes we are called to challenge people—sometimes we need to actually make them uncomfortable. That requires of preachers a tremendous amount of personal spiritual fortitude because the pushback you’re going to get will be real if you are making people feel uncomfortable. You have to have the sense that you are sustained by a greater power. You need that strength, that fortitude, so that you don’t lose your identity when sometimes you are criticized for what you have been preaching.”
Challenges Clergy Face
Whatever your faith may be, the world’s great religious traditions are united in calling people toward building healthy communities, caring for the needy among us and promoting peaceful solutions in the world.
Currently, there are more than 444,000 clergy in the U.S. and those numbers are growing each year, according to the DATA:USA report on clergy compiled by Deloitte, Datawheel and Cesar Hidalgo, Professor at the MIT Media Lab.
As I looked at that DATA:USA clergy report with George, one conclusion we drew was: These folks certainly didn’t choose this field for the money. Clergy earn an average of slightly more than $47,000 a year. K-12 school teachers average more than $56,000; registered nurses earn nearly $68,000; police officers earn more than $72,000; pharmacists earn $107,000.
“One thing that really concerns me about these data is that we should be alarmed by how low clergy salaries are. That’s a national average and that means many clergy families are trying to exist on what’s less than a living wage today. That’s especially true for students leaving seminary today with more debt than ever—debt they’ll be paying off for years,” George said.
“The other thing that surprises me here, in this report, is the projected growth of the numbers of clergy,” he said. “I know that enrollment is down in seminaries all across the country and it’s increasingly difficult for many of these schools to stay open—especially to get master of divinity students. There are many students now looking for one- or two-year master degrees but not the longer program that qualifies you traditionally for ordination.
“And beyond the basic financial challenges that we see here for clergy, there are so many other challenges clergy face and so much more we need to know to be prepared for ordained ministry today,” George said.
Diving deeper into the DATA:USA report, the many facets of clergy education today become clear, including: studies in business, social sciences, psychology, public health, administration, computer technology and legal issues.
Even though George recently retired from Wilshire and switched to an ongoing emeritus status with his congregation—his calling to help prepare new pastors continues.
I asked George to describe some of the ways he has been working on that vocation. “Specifically, since this new book is about preaching, can you tell us how you’ve worked on improving the quality of preaching?” I asked.
“Over the past 20 years, the main way I’ve tried to work on improving preaching nationally is through our pastoral residency program at Wilshire Baptist Church, which started in 2002,” George said. “Soon after Wilshire’s program began, we became one of the first congregations in America to receive a major grant from the Lilly Endowment for its Transitions to Ministry program.
“Through that program, we really focused a lot on preaching. We now have 40 graduates of that program who are out in other congregations now and a lot of the work we’ve done is helping them to find their voice, learn how to exegete context as well as biblical texts, talk to them about the setting of where they are preaching, who they are preaching to, what the cultural context is and how to match their voice to the ears of a congregation. So, that’s been a good part of my effort nationally.
“Plus, we’ve supported Day1, which is a longstanding broadcast effort to improve preaching, and I’ve been on Day1 a few times with Peter Wallace’s team.”
And, as we have said above, stay tuned to Day1, because you may hear George again later this year.
Ways We All Can Help Spread Good News
First, order your copy of this book—and another copy to give to your congregation or your pastor. Amazon offers both hardcover and paperback editions for gift giving. If you email us at [email protected] and tell us about your order, we can even arrange for some of those first emailers to receive a signed bookplate from George that you could affix to the front of your copy. We really would like to hear what you think—because we know that more and more readers will be inspired by meeting George in the pages of this multimedia book.
(And because our cover stories remain online for years, we will add this qualifier: We can’t continue the bookplate offer forever, but we would welcome hearing from some of you who are becoming early readers!)
Connect with George yourself via his brand-new author’s page on Facebook—www.facebook.com/revgeorgemason
And visit George’s similarly brand-new website—www.GeorgeAMason.com—which is a gateway both to his new book and to all of George’s ongoing work now that he has moved to emeritus status with Wilshire. When you first visit, sign up for his free email updates. (It’s easy to cancel anytime, but we doubt you’ll want to cancel.) Then, the website also makes it easy to Contact George, if you’re interested in an invitation to speak or have other questions.
Care to learn more?
This week in our Front Edge Publishing column, we have a special “thank you” from the head of the Wilshire Baptist Church publishing team, Gail Brookshire, who writes about how her team was able to create and launch this book project within one year—a remarkable feat in publishing.