Dr. Danny West
Professor of Preaching
One of the greatest discoveries in the mystery of preaching is the inherent life form we discover in the Bible. It never fails. Just when we think we have seen it all, the text "sneaks" up on us in the moments of preparation and points us to previously undiscovered truths.
As a young preacher I had no idea that such mystery and joy awaited me. My earliest mentors and role models taught me a dangerous preaching methodology and formula that allowed me to "fill in the blank" with whatever I desired as long as it was alliterated, had three points, and closed with a passionate evangelical appeal. This process is what Fredrick Buechner calls "algebraic preaching." 
It is the kind of preaching that plays fast and loose with the biblical text. It is mechanical, inanimate, and its rigidity suffocates the life out of the text.
Proponents of such nonsensical (and dare I say heretical?) preaching advocate a practice that places the exegete of the sacred text in a position of dominance and authority over the text. It empowers the preacher to draft sermons and then hope and pray the Bible has something to say about it. It is preposterous. And, yet, it is a common approach in many preaching circle today. The process is nothing short of writing the sermon first and then going hunting for a supporting text.
The better preaching we offer to our listeners and to God is that which inherently trusts the scriptures to speak a fresh word to our lives. As I remind my preaching students, we do not preach a "scorched earth" gospel. This word is still alive, still fresh, and in ways I have yet to comprehend, it still speaks truth today. This type of preaching is not gimmick-laden. It trusts the text to breathe into the lives of our listeners the very words of life. I am often both amazed and saddened at the preaching that evidently believes that the scriptures are not sufficient for sermons. Consequently, the message is reduced to cliché, gimmick, and motivational sound bites.
The most joyous moment in my sermon preparation is that sacred time when I open the biblical text and wonder to myself, "Where will these words take me this time?" I know, in part, where they took me before, but who knows? This time the journey will likely take me to places I never imagined or even considered. Thus all notions of "creating and developing" sermons are moved aside in favor of simply listening to the compelling lure of the text. When this is done with honesty and integrity--not some pre-determined sermonic conclusion--the text becomes alive to us.
Authentic preaching learns the simultaneous joy of exegeting the biblical text and then the nuances of life. This journey invites us to wrestle with the text, dance into it, and allow it to breathe through us. It ever positions us to be alert to textual surprise and those sneaky places where words read countless times suddenly leap from the pages of scripture as if it were for the first time.
All of us are better people and even better preachers when we trust the moments wherein ancient words rise up and walk into our lives with fresh insight and joyful expectation. Our greatest gift to our listeners is that for just a little while, our passionate love affair with the text draws them into the moment, too.