Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
One of the more perplexing challenges that pastors face is always being on call. Recently, the pastor on duty at a luncheon I attend got caught up in traffic; I found myself presented with an unexpected mic. For a plodder, someone who always works from a 5-year plan, these special occasions can be especially challenging.
In his book, Preaching for Special Services, Scott Gibson writes:
“A pastor must be able to step with ease into a number of different speaking venues. In addition to a regular preaching schedule, you as a pastor face an endless parade of special occasions at which you are asked to speak.” (Back cover)
He goes on to cite the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2 ESV) The purpose of such preaching, he says, “is to give a clear, listener-sensitive, biblically based word to men and women who are sometimes eager and often desperate to hear it.” (18)
In this short book, Gibson focuses on 4 special occasions that make up the core of his 6 chapters:
- Preaching for Special Services
- Wedding Services
- Funeral Services
- Baptism and Infant Presentation Sermons
- Preaching at the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper
- Speaking on Other Occasions
The foreword was written by Haddon W. Robinson who taught preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for many years and is famous for “big idea” preaching.
The idea in “big idea” preaching is to identify the subject of a particular passage of scripture, usually a pericope, and its complement. The subject is what the author is talking about and the complement is what is said about the subject (19). In special occasion preaching, Gibson emphasizes the need for brevity and clarity where the preacher must be clear about the biblical text, clear about the audience, clear about the occasion, and clear in what they say (21). Tall order on occasions where the circumstances may limit the time available for preparation.
Why preach on special occasions? Outside of the obvious response—because you are asked—Gibson offers this response:
“Preaching at these times allows the preacher to speak the word of God to those gathered, to round out the worship, to bring focus to the occasion.” (17)
When I am asked, I refer to these special occasions as difficult transitions in life where God is especially present to those who call on him. Of course, preaching helps us reflect on God’s presence and his special presence.
If you are like me, this is the sort of book that gets bought and remains on the bookshelf until a special occasion arises when a good reference comes in handy. In my case, I am working on a wedding so let me review Gibson’s comments about weddings.
In each of his presentations on special occasions, he reviews the history of the church’s customs with respect the particular occasion. Gibson notes that in pre-Christian Rome and Greece, weddings were celebrated with an epithalamium, which is a poem celebrating the wedding—kind of like Song of Songs in the Old Testament. Gibson’s comments about weddings in medieval Europe are interesting:
“Preaching took place at the synagogue or at the wedding feast. The preacher was the groom, the father of the groom, or the father of the bride.” (27)
In my case, I am both a volunteer pastor and father of the bride.
Gibson sees the wedding sermon as: “a window to understanding God’s design for marriage.” (30). In particular, the marriage is not simply a covenant, but a covenant before God, having both his oversight and blessing. Gibson furthermore sees the wedding service having both theological and practical objectives, celebrating the mystery of marriage (32). The wedding sermon should use concrete language, be brief, clear, personal, and have central idea (35-37).
Scott M. Gibson’s Preaching for Special Services is a helpful reference for pastors and aspiring pastors. Others who speak occasionally may also find it interesting. Although I had a wedding in mind in reading, other chapters helped me prepare sermon notes in advance of writing.
Robinson, Haddon W. 2001. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
 A periscope is a unit of scripture with one unified thought, usually a story or parable, which is often no more than 10-20 verses.
 Here a covenant is more than a business partnership, but, taking the business analogy, it is more of a merger where compatible corporate cultures often determine the long-term viability of the merger.