Talking, Listening, Following

This week my had has been full of sinus drainage, leaving little room for deep, blog-worthy thoughts. Plus, during those precious moments I have been able to escape the demands of work and family . . . I have been sleeping instead of writing.

But hey, there have been weeks–thankfully many of them–when I did not blow my body weight in snot out my nose. And during those weeks, I have written things that I think make some sense. So, considering my inability to be coherent this week, I link you to some previous writings.

What I Learned about Preaching at the Festival of Homiletics

I have experienced a glorious week of hearing the Gospel, singing to God, and talking with other preachers at the Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta. (My husband endured a long week of schedule juggling, meal preparing, and dish washing at home with our three kids—which is why I will not have another glorious Festival experience for approximately five years. Poor guy didn’t know what he was getting into when he promised to love me for better or worse.)

In future posts, I might share some thoughts from specific speakers at the Festival. Tonight I want to share broadly some of the things I observed that make for great preaching. And just so you know where I’m coming from, my favorite preachers at the Festival were: Nadia Bolz-Weber, Walter Brueggemann, Anna Carter Florence, Grace Imathiu, and Raphael Warnock.


So, here are things I already knew but had confirmed about great preaching:

  1. You have to have something meaningful to say about the text.
  2. You have to have something meaningful to say about our life with God and each other in the world.
  3. You have to connect #1 and #2.
  4. You have to care about what you are saying.
  5. You have to care about the people you are saying it to.
  6. You have to tell stories.


And I was pleasantly surprised to observe that:

  1. Great preachers can use any kind of story to good effect: a personal story, a literary story, a fable, a story from the Bible, a story from the news . . .
  2. Great preaching does not require a particular style; my favorite preachers were: prophetic, dynamic, friendly, nurturing, theatrical. You can be yourself and preach well; you do not have to become someone or something you are not.
  3. Great preachers use notes and manuscripts! I can hear the Hallelujah Chorus now.
  4. Great preachers preach relatively short sermons. None of the best sermons went on too long. I didn’t time them, and I have a feeling they ranged in length, but they all ended at the end. I was quite encouraged in my current practice of 12-minute sermons.  (Mark Twain said, “No sinner is ever saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.”)

So what insights about preaching have you gained from watching the masters at work?

Preaching in the Dictionary

If you look at the photo of my “Praying Women” notebook from yesterday’s post, you will see a ripped part of a page tinted purple. I’ve got a detail here that you may or may not be able to read. It’s part of a dictionary page that contains the word “prayer.”

Cute, right? The poet in me was delighted to see that after “pray,” “prayer,” “prayerbook,” and “praying” come the words “preach” and “preacher.”

Never one to let things go as coincidence (or alphabetical necessity), I immediately began thinking about how essential prayer is to my preaching.

I love words. I love reading them. I love crafting them. And if I’m not careful I can write an entire sermon on the energy of my own linguistic intellect. That strategy worked really well for my papers in college and graduate school. But sermons are something different. The point of a sermon is not to convince the audience of my personal intellectual abilities. The point of a sermon is to bring the word of God to the people.

Lest I forget this distinction, I try to make prayer central to my sermon-writing and preaching process. Some weeks I’m more prayerful than others. So,this is a good reminder from the dictionary.

But wait. After “preacher” we have “preamble.” And then . . . “precarious.”

Now that is a word to describe preaching–precarious. The given definition is: “depending on the will of another; uncertain; insecure.”

Isn’t that the truth?

The preacher depends on the will of God. I don’t know how many times people have thanked me for saying something in my sermon that I’m pretty sure I never said.

What one preaches is uncertain. Maybe there are preachers who know the main point of their sermon from the first words they type. But I usually work my way through the text, often ending up someplace very different from where I thought I was going.

And the preacher should be, in a certain sense, insecure. Did you catch what I said before? The point of a sermon is to bring the word of God to the people. I am not up to that task. I cannot accomplish that of my own insights and abilities. And Heaven forbid I should start thinking that I can.

So I like this image from the dictionary. My preaching surrounded by prayer and precariousness. May it be so.