How A Sermon Becomes A Sermon

Obviously this post is not very clickbait-y. Perhaps a couple of my pastor friends will read it (although I think even they are more inclined to only click a link when I’m saying scandalous-sounding things. No worries. Maybe I will require staff members on our church’s teaching team to read this post. Haha, yes, that’s a great idea.

Rather than sharing all the relatively boring things I do in crafting sermons, I thought I’d share a few words from Barbara Brown Taylor.

First, a little about her…  she is an Episcopal priest, professor, author, theologian, and is one of the United States’ best known preachers. In 2014, the TIME magazine placed her in its annual TIME 100 list of most influential people in the world. Impressive!

Here’s what she says:

Let me add a word about method…
Mine is largely intuitive, starting out with a whole assortment of ideas, images, and phrases that have emerged from the text and then juggling them until only the best remain in the air. By “the best,” I mean those that are moving, interesting, tactile, and true to human experience. Also those that matter.

Every Sunday I preach to at least three people who are dying of something.

My general rule of thumb is this: any sermon I preach has to be worth the time they are giving to it. They may be the only ones in the house who know that hearing the Gospel is a matter of life or death, but that makes them the best listeners we have.

I work under the assumption that the development of an image is as important as the development of an idea—more important, perhaps—since there is every reason to believe that conversion is an imaginative process and not an intellectual one. When people discover new life, it is often a matter of trading in their old images for new ones, so that they see themselves, their neighbors, and the whole story of life on earth in a different way.

The development of imagery in a sermon can work out in the open, with full comment on the images under revision, but it works even better out of view, like a bass line that carries the tune without anyone even being aware of it.

I also work under the assumption that words matter, and that choosing the right one is the difference between a sentence that works and one that does not. God would never say “food” if “manna” and “milk and honey” were possibilities.


I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

2 Comments to How A Sermon Becomes A Sermon

  1. Um…. I was really hoping to hear about all the boring stuff you do to prepare. (Big smile here) Come on, that’s helpful! Show us scribbles and scratches. We’re curious people out here. People wanna know-

    But I really love the line that people are dying of something- and we need to speak to the hurt and pain of their lives in a real way each week. That is profound.

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