In the Christian tradition, homiletics is the process or approach to employing various rhetorical tools to provide instruction to the flock. Commonly, the term is used to refer to strategies of preaching, although the term can also be employed to any setting where a discourse on a point of religion is presented. Along with referring to the mechanics of the sermon or discourse delivery, homiletics also encompasses the research, outlining, and general preparation connected with a homily or sermon.
The word itself has roots in the Greek work homiletikos, which is interpreted as the act of gathering or assembling. Within the early years of the Christian movement, believers would gather in small groups, often in homes, to hear leaders in the young movement expound on the basic principles of the faith. As Christianity began to emerge as a world religion, the idea of structuring this regular delivery of the spoken word in a more formal manner began to emerge. From there, the study of homiletics began to develop.
Because the term can also apply to any type of religious discourse, it could be argued that lecturers who speak on some aspect of Christianity in a public setting are in fact engaging in homiletical action. In like manner, religious instructors who use a lecture format in their classes can be said to engage in the application of homiletics. It is important to note that the exact definition for homiletics varies from one Christian body to another. Some identify this process as applying only to ordained ministers who deliver a weekly sermon. It is not unusual for churches that follow this line of thinking to refer to the weekly sermon as a homily.
In denominations where lay ministers or others lead much of the worship experience in the congregation, pastoral homiletic activity is shared rather than centered in one individual. Along with the preacher’s homily, this broader definition may include such actions as the structuring of the worship service itself, leading congregational responsive readings, or the offering of vocal prayer during a religious gathering. For the most part, the various denominations composing the Christian Church tend to encourage the study of homiletics, based on their particular understanding of what that concept encompasses.
Since the latter part of the 18th century, interest in the formal study of homiletics has expanded a great deal. Many Protestant-affiliated universities and colleges now offer courses on lectionary homiletics. Schools of theology also tend to provide classes related to public preaching that delve into the processes involved in sermon preparation, organization, and effective delivery. In denominations where full-time ministers do not provide the religious instruction, courses and seminars that address the effective use of homiletics by other worship leaders is not uncommon.