Craft of Preaching

Sermon Development

Tips for effective proclamation, from advance prep work to gathering feedback.

Preaching Beyond Words

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20150502-4T3A1116. Image by Mary Anne Morgan via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.


I find the central task of preaching and mothering to be the same -- to share God’s love. As a preacher I hope the words I preach inspire the hearers to remember their own worth and to know that they are loved. Similarly, as a mother, I pray that my children will always know God’s love as I love and care for them.

And in both preaching and mothering, the task of sharing God’s love comes from both words and actions.

My daughter is full of love. When she walks into a room, her joy is palpable.

You see her and you know that she loves life. She loves to smile. She loves interacting with people.

What you can’t see from the outside, however, is that she has a speech delay. She communicates in her own way through sign language, and with lots of hand motions.

As a preacher and a mother, I’ve wondered what I could learn from her ability to communicate without words and how that could translate to preaching the gospel with fewer words.

Can preachers preach with fewer words? Can preachers share the good news through their joy, actions, and smiles?

As I’ve watched my daughter these last few months, I’ve gleaned a few ways that I can share the gospel not only with the spoken word, but with my whole being.

Perhaps you too will be able to utilize these tips as well.

Smile
I know I forget to sometimes take a breath when I’m preaching, let alone smile. But try it. Before beginning, smile. Look the congregation in the eye and smile. Let them know that this Gospel is good news for them. Invite them into this goodness first with a smile. And not only smile but use your whole body to convey the good news. Make large hand motions. Lift your arms in prayer. Reach out to invite everyone into this good news.

Shorten words
With my daughter we need to shorten words to their most basic sounds. We’re working on the building blocks of speech -- vowel and consonant sounds. We start with simple sounds to communicate a bigger word.

“Mmmm” for more. “Oooo” for open. “Eee” for eat.

Each sound is a start, a foundation. We say them over and over again. And each sound means more than the sound itself. In our preaching, can we get down to the basic building blocks? Can we shorten our sentences and thoughts to just a few words? Can we convey a powerful message with a word?

Love.
Called.
Beloved.
Saved.
Life.
Grace.
Forgiveness.
Freedom.
Cross.

Our congregations need to hear these words over and over again. We need to be reminded of the power of the cross. We need to hear the transforming power of love. We need grace to wash over us. When we’re looking at our preaching, how can we take our thoughts and shorten them? How can we take a few words and repeat them over and over to convey the good news?

Signs
Because my daughter is learning sign language, so are we as her family. It’s helped her communicate with us and vice versa. She’s even made up her own signs for certain people and places. Learn one or two signs to teach the congregation during your sermon. Perhaps it’s the sign for love or forgiveness. Perhaps it’s the signs for life and death. Learn the sign and share it with others. See how you can tell the Gospel through a few signs.

Energy
We’ve all listened to those sermons where the preacher doesn’t seem to have shown up. They are physically present but the emotion and heart isn’t there. Something's missing. If there’s anything I’m learning from my daughter, it’s the power of her joy. The sheer fact that she is alive radiates from her face. And when I see her, I’m full of joy too. I want to live in joy. I want to smile. I want to revel in the ordinary, yet extraordinary beauty of simply being.

And that's my job as a preacher. To preach the Gospel of Christ’s life-saving love and grace that invites others to know that same gift. To share through joy the good news that is Jesus Christ.

Believe it, preacher.

Believe it for you.

Believe it for the congregations you serve.

Believe Jesus loves you.

Believe Jesus died for you.

Believe Jesus overcame death on the cross for all of us.

And then tell that good news with your whole being. Tell it in such a way that those who hear it can’t do anything but believe it too, and smile back at you in joy.

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