The Learning and The Burning
40MidWeek-Meditations - Cover
SING TO THE LORD A NEW SONG - Front Cover
A Necessary Transition
SING TO THE LORD A NEW SONG - Front Cover
SING TO THE LORD A NEW SONG - Front Cover
SING TO THE LORD A NEW SONG - Front Cover

THE LEARNING

AND

THE BURNING

WAYS TO

ENHANCE PREACHING

By Thomas W. Spann

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The Learning and The Burning - Ways to Enhance Preaching

About The Book

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Whether a preacher is just starting out in ministry or has been in pulpit ministry for several decades, this book is filled with creative ideas for enhancing this sacred oratorical art. Thomas Spann writes from the perspective that any preacher’s current method or approach to preaching is fine, but can be enhanced. In this sense there is no judgment on any preacher’s current method. Drawing on over fifty years in the gospel ministry, this offering is an attempt to provide insights and ideas to aid in next level preaching. Ideas in this book range from the use of poetic flair to social messaging of the gospel. With care and concern, Thomas Spann addresses unusual topics in the field of preaching, including: disavowing the joke about seminary/cemetery; progressive celebration; preaching as a physical act; perspiration and inspiration; and avoiding common errors in English. Using his African American religious experience as a broad background, Thomas Spann believes that this book is useful in a variety of denominational settings. The book concludes with four original sermons.

In this book I will share my ideas and practical techniques, with the intent of stirring up the gifts that are already in you, so that you create your own path to a new and exciting venture in preaching and teaching preparation.

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What’s inside

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Part I: Introduction

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Part II: Strategies, Methods, and Approaches

  • Use of Poetry
  • Examples of Creative Use of Poetry in Black Preaching Oratory
  • Work on the Beginning Sentences

… and more

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Part III: Sermons

  • Eulogy for Bertha Baker Hilburn
  • Eulogy for Archie Cooper
  • What Shall I Render?
  • Resources for the Rest of the Journey

Introduction

My approach to the subject of preaching is not about getting you to accept my preaching method or that of an established national preacher. Other preachers’ methods are good and wonderful; they work for them. Perhaps some aspects of their methods can be applied to enhance your preaching and teaching. My aim is to invite you to become the subjects of your own research.
Each of you has a method or a way of thinking, organizing, and delivering a sermon or a lesson plan. I want to bless or affirm that the implicit or explicit method/approach you have is good, but it can be enhanced. So, I am not starting with the idea that a published author or a professional homiletical is the starting point. Rather, the starting point for reflection on preaching and teaching preparation is your own implicit or explicit method or style, as developed over years of practice. The difference is that you will now look at your own practice from a critical, constructive, and compassionate countenance, using some of the insights that I will share.

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I thought about titling this book Ways to Improve Your Preaching and Teaching. I know of no one who opposes personal improvement. No one in their right mind votes against the spirit of improvement. The biggest room we have is room for improvement. We improve our homes; we have road and street improvement.

Serena Williams works at improving her tennis swing.
Tiger Woods works at improving his golf technique.
LeBron James works at improving his basketball skills.
Gladys Knight works at improving her singing.
Nolan Ryan worked at improving his pitching.
Toni Morrison worked at improving her writing talents.
James Brown’s band worked several hours a day to improve their sound.
Andrae Crouch worked at writing music every day.
Church choirs rehearse each week to improve their singing.
Sacred dancers work hard to improve their artistry to the praise of God.

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FORTY MID-WEEK

MEDITATIONS

MONDAY IS COMING

By Thomas W. Spann

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40MidWeek-Meditations - Cover

About The Book

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Many and varied are daily devotional books for the calendar year. This book differs in that the reader can reflect on any one of forty sermonic meditations from week to week. This is not a time-driven book of devotionals. Any set of meditations in this book can be used as the basis of a small group Bible study.

Thomas Spann’s interpretations of many of the psalms in the Book of Psalms bear witness to the psalmist’s concern for personal and social salvation as well as reflect God’s deep and abiding commitment to help the weak and the oppressed. This book affirms that the Book of Psalms is rich with laments, calls for national thanksgiving, prayers of rescue, testimonies of deliverance, and sustained summons to praise God for God’s mighty deeds.

Most of these meditations or sermons were delivered at the St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church in Dallas during the church’s weekly Wednesday night service of prayer and praise.

Thomas Spann begins this book with reflections on Psalm 1 and concludes with a creative rendition of Psalm 150.

Meditation prepares us to hold fast to

  • the virtue of resistance
  • the value of democracy, and
  • the vision of a new human future.
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What’s inside

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Acknowledgments

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Are You a Morning or Night Person?

Psalm 1:2

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The Character of Joy

Psalm 4:7

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When Children Sing

Psalm 8:2

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Life Every Voice

Psalm 13:1-6

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No Discount Seats Available

Psalm 15

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Lasting Impressions

Psalm 19:14

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And 34 more mid-week meditations

Chapter 1

Are You a Morning or Night Person? 

Psalm 1:2

In Cleophus LaRue’s book, Power in the Pulpit, twelve nationally-known Black preachers share their method for sermon preparation. One of the twelve preachers is Dr. Zan Wesley Holmes, Jr., emeritus pastor of St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. In his chapter on how he prepares his sermons, Dr. Holmes states that when it comes to the writing of the sermon manuscript, he is a morning person; he does most of his sermon work during the first hours of the day.
There are preachers, poets, and politicians who are morning persons. There are musicians, movie actors, and money managers who are night persons.
Verse two of this psalm states that those who delight in God’s law
or God’s word meditate on it day and night. Obviously, none of us can literally stay awake day and night meditating on God’s word. This is the psalmist’s way of acknowledging that God’s word is relevant in every circumstance—both day and night. We are being invited to stay awake, to stay alert, or to be conscious of the immediacy of God’s word. For even when we are asleep, God’s word is watching over us. The God who neither slumbers nor sleeps is the God of the daylight and God of the starlight.
God’s word is worthy of contemplation when we can see our way through, that is, in the day, and ……

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I was introduced to Wednesday Night Prayer Service at the Pine Bluff Baptist Church in Karnack, Texas. The pastor was Reverend Joseph Cooper. Practically every church in the rural community where I grew up had a front yard billboard with the following weekly schedule: Worship Service 11:00am; Sunday School 9:30am; and Wednesday Prayer Service 7:00pm. Pine Bluff Church had a group of eight to ten members who met in homes for mid-week service. As a child I remember my mother hosting one of these meetings. I would peep through the keyhole or stand at the door trying to understand what was going on. I distinctly remember the members singing, praying, and calling the roll of sick and shut-in members. They took up an offering to show their love for members who were sick. It was not until I received my call to ministry that I was invited to participate in the church’s mid-week service. 

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Sing to the Lord a new song

Prophetic poems of praise

By Thomas W. Spann

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SING TO THE LORD A NEW SONG - Front Cover

About The Book

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In this book, Thomas Spann has given creative thought to balancing
personal praise with a prophetic proclamation in the form of poetry.
Perhaps an interested and creative musician might be motivated to
compose music to accompany these lyrics. These poems cover a wide
range of social and personal life happenings, including Juneteenth,
protest marches, violence, and personal faith challenges.

He hopes that these poetic offerings will inspire the reader to find her
or his own poetic voice in the interest of uniting the two that belong
together—personal faith and social justice. The book concludes with a
the piece, written in poetry and prose, that he considered as a potential
title, The Grace of Something More.

Have you ever given thought to more balance in Christian praise music in terms of the spiritual and the social?

Have you ever desired fresh poetry and music that integrated current events and themes with traditional gospel claims?

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What’s inside

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Preface

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GOD IS ON THE MOVE

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WINDS OF CHANGE

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LET EVERY SERMON SING OF JUSTICE

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MORE THAN A NUMBER

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IN THE WRECKAGE OF OUR TIMES

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NEVER IN OUR LIFETIME

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WHERE IS GOD IN THAT?

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HOW DO I GET UP FROM HERE?

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... and more Prophetic poems of praise to read about

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About the Author

Prophetic Poems of Praise

God Is On the Move

God is on the move
making crooked places straight unveiling words of truth
lifting bowed down heads.

God is on the move
let justice be our cry let peace be our prayer
let our minds and hearts agree.

God is on the move
tearing down walls of empire dismantling ancient building blocks of The System’s unholy power and opening paths to life and liberty.

God is on the move
let every church be bold to make every day count today the struggle; tomorrow the victor’s praise.”

Winds of Change

Winds of change are blowing
blowing across every nation rich or poor
poor in spirit are still blessed
blessed to be in the Kingdom of God.

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Prophetic Poems of Praise

Pages

Preface:

In the Book of Psalms (33:3, 40:3, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1), the Book of Isaiah (42:10), and the Book of Revelation (5:9) there are affirmations of “a new song.” Psalm 98:1 states why the summons is given to sing a new song: “for he has done marvelous things.” The call to sing a new song is not a perfunctory expression. The psalmist is sincerely inviting the community of faith to blend new experiences and insights with the familiar themes of Israel’s faith. God’s marvelous deeds reveal the changing face of divine grace. God’s grace is never static or stale. Each time persons of faith encounter a new experience of grace, there is, in truth, in the encounter, a summons to compose and sing of God’s ever-present and ever-fresh love and presence in the human story.

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I feel my help coming

A Volume of Sermons

By Thomas W. Spann

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Cover I Feel My Help Coming

About The Book

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The title of this book is derived from traditional African American oratory. This collection of sermons comes out of Thomas Spann’s fifty-plus years of preaching the gospel. These sermons witness to the liberating presence of God in a variety of human life experiences. Thomas Spann offers this book to the Church in the assurance that the “help” expressed in the preacher’s sermon continues to be available to readers of these sermons. Thomas Spann believes that these written sermons can still offer comfort and challenge as the reader opens her or his heart to the living God. God’s Word is never left void or without a witness. It is Thomas Spann’s hope that additional insights will come to the reader of each sermon, whether in personal reflections or a vibrant study group. A study guide is included for personal reflection or small group discussion. The study guide is divided into the following sections: Text, Sermon, Personal Growth, Social Implications, Deeper Theological Considerations, and Further Study.

“While there are unique responses from the pew, there are also phrases in pulpit oratory that have stood the test. Some of these expressions include: “Can I get a witness?,” “Ain’t God good?,” “Help me, Holy Ghost,” and “Ain’t He alright?” One expression that used to be a standard part of pulpit oratory but is infrequently heard today is, “I feel my help coming.”

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What’s inside

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Dedications

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Preface

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Acknowledgments

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Old Testament Chapters: 10 Sermons

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New Testament Chapters: 15 Sermons

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Study Guide

  • Text
  • Sermon
  • Personal Growth
  • Social implications
  • Deeper theological considerations
  • Further study
^

About the Author

Chapter 1

Raising the Standards

Numbers 2:2, 3, 10, 18 and 25

Verse 2: “The Israelites shall camp by their respective[standards]…they shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side.”

Verse 3: “On the east side toward the sunrise shall be the [standard] of the camp of Judah…”

Verse 10: “On the south side shall be the [standard] of the camp of Reuben…”

Verse 18: “On the west side shall be the [standard] of the camp of Ephraim…”

Verse 25: “On the north side shall be the [standard] of the camp of Dan…”

At this point in the book of Numbers, the Israelites have been encamped in the wilderness of Sinai since the third month after the exodus. They are gathered according to tribes, with three tribes each occupying one of the cardinal points on the compass. Thus, there are three tribes in the east with a standard, three in the south with a standard, three in the west with a standard, and three in the north with a standard, all encircling the tent of meeting, which was the symbolic place of meeting God.

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Preface:

Congregational feedback is standard fare in a traditional African American church. Pew oratory is integral to the heightened experience of praising God. Speaking aloud (to each other, the preacher, and God) makes the Word become flesh, abiding in joyful tones and sometimes in expressions of anguished expectations. No one is expected to sit still in a dynamic worship experience. Inviting and experiencing God’s presence is the work of the whole congregation.

Several phrases in the pew vocabulary of worship are well known. When I served as the pastor of the First Christian Methodist Evangelistic Church in Dallas, I could always expect to hear someone in the choir urge the preacher on by saying, “You betta preach!” Other expressions from the pew include: “ Say it,” “Come on with it,” “Let the Lord use you,” and “Stay right there.” Every worshiper in the Black church (church member or not) intuits the freedom to say “Amen” and to witness to a truth or an insight carved out of life experiences.

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A Necessary Transition

A Book of Sermons

By Thomas W. Spann

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Thomas W Spann - First Sunday - Front Cover

About The Book

i

Most of the sermons in this collection were delivered at either St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas or at the First Christian Methodist Evangelistic Church in Dallas, Texas. Having been tested before live audiences and critiqued by loving friends, Thomas Spann offers them partial fruits of his fifty years in the preaching ministry. He contends that every sermon is a “great” sermon if it falls on fertile soil and matures in the life of receptive disciples of Jesus Christ. Thomas Spann’s prayer is that these sermons be received by the reader in a way that invites intellectual, spiritual, moral, and personal growth. 

A Necessary Transition – A Book of Sermons contains twenty-six sermons for personal devotion and small group study. This volume begins with the sermon titled “A Necessary Transition” and concludes in celebration with the well-received sermon simple titled. “O”.

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What’s inside

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Preface

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Acknowledgments

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Chapter 1: Seasons of Change

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Chapter 2 : Questions

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Chapter 3: Imperatives

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Chapter 4: Home

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Chapter 5: A Different Approach

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Chapter 6: Prophetic Insights

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Chapter 7: Celebration

Chapter 1

A Necessary Transition 

John 6:16-21

Life is filled with transitions. Nations go through transitions in political leadership. America went through a major transition when Senator Barack Obama was elected to the office of the president. South Africa went through a transition from white majority rule to a multiracial democracy under the presidency of Nelson Mandela. Transitions take place in the workplace as employees are promoted or downsized or there is a major reorganization. Colleges and universities undergo transitions each year as new students are enrolled or as some faculty members retire and others are hired. Churches go through transitions with new pastors or new forms of administrative governance.

Some transitions are smooth; others can be quite stormy. Many churches have experienced difficulties in transitioning from one set of officers or leaders to another. There are church lay leaders who have been in office for a number of years but are not ready to relinquish their hold on power. This, of course, leads to tensions in the effort to transition to new leaders.

Transitions occur in the personal life of faith, also. To come to a deeper faith in Jesus sometimes means having to struggle. We are often faced with struggles in faith in the face of a major loss, such as a death of a loved one, a major health crisis, an unexpected layoff, or a scandal in the life of a revered spiritual leader. The text that is before us presents an experience of struggle in the life of the disciples.

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Many times during my fifty years of preaching I have been invited and encouraged to write a book of sermons. Having written two other books, I consider this work to be the most challenging and humbling. I have hesitated because preaching is essentially the word of God orally proclaimed in a context of worship. I am a manuscript preacher. If the sacred word of God on paper is preached to a live audience, is it any less relevant and reachable in print? I have come to the position that the sermon verbally presented in worship can have relevance and reachability in print as the reader brings to the printed sermons an open mind and an open heart. God continues to speak long after the preacher has sat down.

First Sunday

Reflections on Ministry Experiences in the Black Church

By Thomas W. Spann

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Thomas W Spann - First Sunday - Front Cover

About The Book

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Have you ever wondered about the origin and meaning of some of the practices and rituals of the church? Have you ever paid attention to how the Lord’s Supper is presented in traditional Black Baptist churches? Are there church protocols that are invisible until you cross one? Have you ever considered the features of Black Church funerals? These questions and considerations are carefully addressed in this easy-to-read exploration of the worship life in many Black churches.

In First Sunday: Reflections on Ministry Experiences in the Black Church, Dr. Spann explores his own experiences growing up in the Pine Bluff Baptist Church in Karnack, Texas. From these experiences and others, he extrapolates themes and nuances that help to understand some of the whys behind what we do. Thomas Spann leads readers through detailed commentaries on the relationship between the Black Church and its community, the Lord’s Supper, Special Days, and features of Black Church funerals. He offers a helpful study guide for personal use and for discussions in small groups.

 

Study Guide: I have included a Study Guide that can be used individually or in small discussion groups. It can be amended by the user in deepening reflections on the significance of many church experiences, practices, and expressions. The user is encouraged to look at her or his church life in light of the guiding questions.

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What’s inside

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Preface

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Excerpts from Deeds

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Acknowledgments

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Chapter 1: Pine Bluff Baptist Church

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Chapter 2 The Lord’s Supper or “Circament” Sunday

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Chapter 3: Cultural Practices and Expressions

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Study Guide

Chapter 1

Pine Bluff Baptist Church Background 

Pine Bluff Baptist Church is located about seven miles northeast of Marshall on the Stagecoach Road, also called the Pine Bluff Road. It sits down in a flat that once was crowned by towering pines, thus the name Pine Bluff. The Stagecoach Road, along which the church sits, was once the transportation artery between Shreveport, Louisiana and Marshall, Texas. The actual mailing location of the church is Karnack, a small town on Port Caddo Lake.

Many Black churches that were organized after slavery began in brush arbors, a structure built from surrounding tree branches and natural foliage. There are examples of Black churches in the south that were named after surrounding trees such as cedars and oaks; (e.g., Cedar Grove, Live Oak, Oak Grove, Blooming Grove). No surviving records exist to substantiate where the first pioneers of Pine Bluff Baptist Church met. Due to the abundance of pine and sweet gum trees in the area, it is conceivable that Pine Bluff Baptist Church was organized and started in a brush arbor or in an abandoned hay barn owned by an organizing family. Some of the early families in the surrounding area included: the Singletons, the Harrises, the Connors, the Campbells, and the Jacksons.

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I begin the book with Pine Bluff Baptist Church in Karnack, Texas as the window through which I am looking, not only at particular practices and expressions in this church but in the Black Church in general. Pine Bluff has a special place in my heart since it is the church where I was baptized and acknowledged my call to ministry over fifty years ago. What is said here about Pine Bluff could be said about neighboring rural churches in Karnack or Leigh, Texas, but I use Pine Bluff because of my personal relationship with it and because it has had such a powerful influence in shaping my ministry.

When Theological Reflection Goes To Church

By Thomas W. Spann

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When Theological Reflection Goes to Church by Thomas Spann - Digital

About The Book

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Have you ever given serious thought to who God is and what God is doing in the world? Have you ever wondered what God’s deepest dream is for humankind and creation? That kind of thinking is theological reflection, and when the Church engages in this deeper level of thinking, the faith community begins to look at the connection of the Church’s actions in relationship to the gospel.

When Theological Reflection Goes to Church is a practical blueprint that explores the DNA of the Black Church – from historic and cultural worship styles to how deeper reflection strengthens the Church. Thomas Spann leads the reader through thought-provoking essays, scenarios, and discussion questions that can be explored in small groups, Bible studies, and even as a means to “an introduction” to seminary education. He offers a proposal for the Black Church to create an Academy of Christian Theological Studies as a way to bridge Black theology and ministry of the Church.

 

“…. In moments when we are tempted to separate spiritual praise and social witness, heart and head, bring us to our senses so that we may be the whole persons that you have created us to be.”

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What’s inside

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Essay #1: Thinking Theologically

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Essay #2: Theological Reflection as a Discipline for Prophetic/Public Theologians

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Essay #3: Theological Reflection as Listening for the Sound of The Genuine

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Essay #4: Leading from a Place of Deep Christian Theological Reflection

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Essay #5: Worship as a Model for Theological Reflection

Chapter 1

What is theological reflection?

I begin by making you aware that theology assumes God’s deepest dream for all humankind and creation. That dream is justice, wholeness, salvation, or the absence of poverty, war, disease, discrimination, racism, sexism, classism—any system or ideology that blocks the fulfillment of God’s gift of salvation for the whole world. God’s dream is that we love God, love one another as we love ourselves, and love the environment which sustains human life on this earth. If theology begins with God’s dream, then it cannot dismiss the massive examples of humanity’s injustices: the neglect and exploitation of children, the abuse visited upon women, oppression of the poor, environmental abuse, and ecological racism. Thus, theological reflection takes place at the intersection of God’s dream and humanity’s refusal fully to live into that dream.

God’s dream is not synonymous with The American Dream, although the democratic principles of equality and justice are partial expressions of God’s dream. Crassly speaking, the American Dream is reduced by many citizens to the ownership of property and material things; whereas, the dream of God is about social justice, world peace, and human cooperation and respect.

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Theological reflection can look within the culture for non-traditional ways of knowledge that may provide opportunities to cast new visions and employ underutilized and, in some cases, neglected, resources for the Church’s work in the world.

About the author

The Reverend Dr. Thomas W. Spann is an ordained Baptist minister who earned his Bachelor of Arts at Bishop College, Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Doctor of Ministry at Southern Methodist University. After thirty years at Perkins School of Theology at SMU, he retired in 2018 as the Director of the Perkins Intern Program. He is the author of When Theological Reflection Goes to Church; First Sunday: Reflections on Ministry Experiences in the Black Church; A Necessary Transition: A Book of Sermons; I Feel My Help Coming: A Volume of Sermons, and Sing to the Lord a New Song: Prophetic Poems of Praise, which are available at www.thomaswspann.com. He has also published The Learning and the Burning: Ways to Enhance Preaching, which is available at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. He and his wife, Cynthia, live in Dallas.

Thomas W. Spann

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