How To Be A Poet Preacher

One good start would involve reading this post by Jim Henley (link via BoingBoing, who found it from Patrick Nielsen’s wonderful Electrolite), and changing the word “poet” to “preacher,” and “poem” to “sermon.”
One of the problems at the seminary level is that very few people preach a half-decent sermon in their first dozen, two dozen, perhaps hundred sermons. Overall, the standard of preaching in the Episcopal Church is pretty low, so some people preach sermons that aren’t nearly as bad as the average; but most folks need more than three or four practice sermons in seminary to make significant strides toward fluency and grace in preaching.
Here at Seabury, we put a lot of emphasis on finding your preaching voice, and I don’t construe that as opposed to Henley’s advice to forget about finding your voice. The two divergent paths actually converge where preachers have learned enough about words (learned to care enough about words) and the way words work that they can articulate a voice that effects something more vital than the casual trivialities with which daily life clutters our conversations. Henley emphasizes the craft (and I’m intensely sympathetic with the urgency with which he presses his case); here, we emphasize the “personal voice,” but the best preaching draws strength from both. A personal voice without practiced composition amounts to authentic superficiality, and elegant rhetoric without a personal voice washes past as so much more empty P.R. (sorry, Jeneane and Michael; when I say, “empty P.R.” I mean “not the kind that my friends produce”).
It’s work, and it’s hard work, and people can get better at it if they’re willing to put as much effort into it as they will to body sculpting or playing guitar or designing snazzy web sites, woodcarving, juggling, or playing Unreal Tournament. If it came in a bottle, everyone would be a good preacher.
[End of rant. You may resume comfortable browsing.]

3 thoughts on “How To Be A <del>Poet</del> Preacher

  1. Amen. A rant from the pews: I’ve always gotten the feeling that many of our priests are afraid to be too engaging in their sermons, as if we required them to be stilted and dry, and we somehow reinforced the idea that we look forward when they poorly read several long passages from another source.

    That’s a bit harsh, but I do wonder if they have agreed to an unspoken rule that sermons must sound serious (as opposed to being taken seriously).

    If they must read sermons word-for-word, then they should at least read as if the words have some meaning or connection for themselves. If they don’t enter the preaching moment with a sense of interest to communicate effectively (re: your description above on good sermon crafting), why do they think we are going to pay attention to what they are saying?

    I’m not looking for Jay Leno in the pulpit. Far from that. There is enough entertainment in our culture. But surely not connecting with the congregation must be discouraging for bad preachers.

  2. Amen to AKMA and Don. As a new rector, this preaching every Sunday bit is quite the challenge. But, I also had such a GREAT time preparing and delivering Holy Week sermons….since then, though, it has been a struggle.
    I did prepare this congregation, or at least the search committee / vestry, that I take preaching very seriously – and that means I put a lot of time into it. Unfortunately, what I have NOT learned yet is good time management, especially when I am spending a minimum of 10 hours a week commuting (which gives me quality “thinking” time but not much else). So I have found myself stumbling into Saturday night with nothing done on the sermon yet (once) – which really frightened me. Consequently the effort that Sunday was not up to my own standards, so I can only imagine what the “folks in the pews” thought of it.
    AKMA is dead on – it’s a craft, and it takes work and time and practice and time and tools and time……

  3. Dude… “A personal voice without practiced composition amounts to authentic superficiality, and elegant rhetoric without a personal voice washes past as so much more empty P.R.”….

    I’ll be printing those words out and hanging them over my desk.

    I’m really excited to be going to the Engle Institute ( this summer and get some peer review and feedback that doesn’t (hopefully) include the phrase “Really loved your sermon”…

    One of the more important things that someone told me was that he wanted to see more of the me he saw outside of worship in worship. Ok, that phrasing is painful, but it’s late and Ethan’s bedtime is looming.

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