by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

Please, we beg you: skip the well-read sermon.

If you get to speak in front of people, face to face, each week, and they are showing up, AND you are reading the sermon, STOP. They deserve more.

Memorizing the sermon is probably not getting us there either. I love this message from Seth Godin about the true work of knowing something by heart.

It is time to shift from the well-read, well-written sermon to something more important. We need to do the hard work of knowing the Biblical stories so well that we see them coming to life all around us in our daily life. Think parable. Here’s how this works for me:

  1. Experience life and notice God’s presence. Daily life is filled with these moments, but if they aren’t enough to spark your inner-storyteller, get out of your bubble by traveling to a new neighborhood, state, or country. There is nothing like leaving the grind of “normal” life to get reconnected to liminal space. This doesn’t have to cost money. It can literally mean getting to know your neighbors.
  2. Read. Feel free to read more than theology or leadership books. Read novels. Notice how characters are developed, what captures the imagination, and what creates boredom. Don’t read much? Then try audio books, podcasts, TED Talks, etc. The point is to watch how others manage the art of storytelling.
  3. Write. Literally write out the stories to identify the difference between rambling and making your point. Leaders with over-full lives will do better when they block out 30 minutes per day, or one day a week or 3 days a month, or a week per quarter to write. Writing takes focused, uninterrupted time for deep thinking. Clear convictions in tension with the Bible and the world written, edited, written, edited, etc. Not a writer? Try this anyway to deepen internal convictions with the weekly text or Biblical theme.
  4. Practice. Tell the sermon, out loud if possible, over and over. Seven times. Yes, I know, that takes time. A couple of hours during the week. AND it only works if the other three, above, are also happening. Don’t skip this step. This is where the biggest move from paper to truly embodying the message comes.

It’s a lot, but if people are giving us their time, it is the least we can do. For those who preach or speak publicly, we owe it to our audience to know our message by heart.

Please invest in preaching. Make it clear to your council and staff that this is essential work. You want them to understand and support your call to shape the faith and culture of your congregation in a way that people can repeat and engage.

We are looking for more than inspiration. We want a living faith that is contagious, one that is caught from leaders who are living out of a relationship with the Bible and the world. Clarify your convictions. Plan your preaching by carving out time (above) so you can step away from the well-written sermon and experiment with the well-lived Gospel. The church is counting on this.