January 18, 2021

The kind of preaching I hope to do


I wrote a post on preaching a couple of years ago. I ended that piece with a list of characteristics of the kind of sermons I hope I will be known for preaching. I’ve edited it a bit, and in the light of yesterday’s post, I thought I would run it again today for further discussion.

Here is the kind of preaching I hope to do:

  • Rich in nourishing content, with a usual focus on making one main point
  • Pastoral (gracious, sensitive, compassionate — good preaching is loving your congregation through words)
  • Concise (I’d say twenty minutes max)
  • Literate about life, human nature, and the ways of the world
  • Imaginative and poetic (creates a metaphorical world and draws us in)
  • Faithful to the Story of the faith and the particular text being preached
  • Brings the congregation into the presence of Jesus so that we might encounter him again and have our faith renewed
  • Prepares the congregation to be sent into daily life “between Sundays” as followers of Jesus who lay down their lives for others

In my opinion, this kind of preaching functions best within the context of the traditional liturgy structure:

  • Gathering together before God
  • Hearing the Word
  • Coming to the Table
  • Being Sent into the World

Please don’t misunderstand me — when I say “liturgy,” I am not suggesting it must be a particular style of service (such as traditional or contemporary). I have argued before that the form and order of the liturgy is the important thing. The Christian worship service is and has traditionally been understood as a meal gathering.

The purpose of the Word in such a gathering is to reinforce the gospel of Jesus that has brought us together, which gives us life, and which we will celebrate and be nourished by once again at the Table. We are then sent out into the world to live in this good news daily with Jesus among our neighbors.

In other words, the reading and proclamation of the Word is a community-forming act. Like the tradition of families having regular Sunday dinners and spending time in conversation and storytelling, in the the Christian meal gathering such preaching helps bind us together, satisfy (and increase!) our hunger, deepen our organic ties with one another, and equip us to bear the family name in daily life. “The goal of our instruction is love…” (1Tim. 1:5).

The kind of preaching we hear (and the kind of service we participate in) determines the kind of community that will be formed.

That’s why I believe so strongly in the kind of preaching I commend here.


  1. Please do NOT take this as a possible criticism. But do you ever preach on hell/damnation? [ Just curious ]

    • Ah, now you’re asking about the content of my preaching. I don’t preach as often any more, and when I do these days I’m usually either following the lectionary or someone else’s planned series. So I don’t generally get to pick my topics or texts most times. I would not avoid preaching on God’s judgment, and as I say in the post today, I would attempt to do so in a way that is faithful to the entire biblical Story and to the text being preached.

    • Not aimed at you personally, just an increasing trend that I’ve been seeing on Facebook as well, but there is definitely a subset of people who are very concerned to make sure that there is enough hell and damnation in the mix when it comes to preaching.

      Of course it shouldn’t be ignored it it comes up in a passage, and it’s actually pretty hard to avoid at least touching on when preaching the gospel, but it’s kind of a weird craving.

      I could see being a little anxious if someone was doing a donut run, and you are worried there wouldn’t be enough Boston cream in the mix. I’ve just found myself a little skeptical of the motivations behind this craving for hell and damnation that I’m seeing lately.

      Btw, it is overly difficult to type hell and damnation while using predictive text… maybe we can be too sensitive on that subject. 😉

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > but it’s kind of a weird craving.


        Doubly so since “hell/damnation” in Scripture is astonishingly vague; there is not concrete doctrine of Hell at all. Scripture is all over the place about whatever that is.

        Popular imagination/culture has a pretty concrete idea – but that isn’t Scripture.

        • Rick Ro. says

          I think I’m coming to believe the same about heaven, too. Lots of different ideas about what that looks like in scripture, but no real concrete ideas. Lots of different INTERPRETATIONS, but I think they’re all just guesses.

          To me, heaven is a place where we will be with God/Jesus.
          Hell is a place absent God/Jesus.

          Difficult to preach about Hell without first getting the idea why a person would want to spend eternity with God/Jesus, especially when some images presented of God (by Christians) are of a God so….JUDGMENTAL.

          • Danielle says

            I might just sign my contientous objector card and go wherever it is the divine courts send Quakers.

          • Danielle says

            I dont have much to lose by not inclining my mind toward violence as an ultimate reality. In my case, thinking about it does little besides exciting my worst traits, and believing that peace wins out guides me toward love and charity and away from anxiety. A while back I started praying for love to win out in all cases and now its such a comfort to me im dusinclined to stop.

            I appreciate the concern by some to ensure religion doesnt turn to roses and sentiment, but if the doctrine is meant to produce good then I’m too weak or too much the wrong kind of person to make it an occupation.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > I think I’m coming to believe the same about heaven, too

            Yep, there is even less material about “heaven”. Vanishingly little.

            The Scriptures overall seem to have only a passing interest in “afterlife”, and rather Ok with just utilizing whatever conceptions of such are dominant at the time.

            Perhaps there is a message in the absence? Scripture is certainly less interesting in the topic that every Church I’ve attended or “Christian” movie I’ve seen.

      • I suppose people might be worried that Christians are underplaying certain negative doctrines and playing up the more positive ones, for the sake of attracting new converts or simply for our own sake, since it’s easier to get through life thinking everything will simply sort itself out. Honestly, even in my own conservative evangelical church, hell almost never comes up for more that a few sentences in the occasional sermon. So I do believe this is a trend that some people may object to. I personally have no problem with this trend, as I’m not sure that hell (as it is popularly understood) serves to inspire anything but fear, which is poor reason to be or to become a Christian. Also, I wouldn’t underestimate the subconscious influence that the doctrine of hell has, even if it isn’t being explicitly preached. Honestly, my church might run “Community” events, but I know the real name of these events ought to be “Save people from hell” events. Also, I think Christians subconsciously hesitate to form deep relationships with people of other (or no) faiths, since we know that there is a risk they will be separated from us eternally (not to mention the suffering), and we don’t want to subject ourselves to the pain of loss.

        • Robert F says

          Also, I think Christians subconsciously hesitate to form deep relationships with people of other (or no) faiths, since we know that there is a risk they will be separated from us eternally (not to mention the suffering), and we don’t want to subject ourselves to the pain of loss.

          “Other (or no) faiths”? Plenty of Christians who accept the traditional doctrine(s) regarding hell and damnation worry about themselves, or those they love, ending up there. Among those who hold to a traditional doctrine of certain eternal conscious torment, in my experience not many have no doubt about their own salvation or the salvation of those whom they love. With hell looking over one’s shoulder, the “risk” never goes away in this life. I’m doing my best to jettison the whole idea of eternal conscious torment from my theological perspective.

      • I think it’s partially a desire to revert to the “good old days” When the perception is that it was all pretty much hellfire & damnation. Focusing on the positive (a la the prosperity/evangelical mega church model) hasn’t got people joining the church in droves, so maybe scaring the hell into them will.

        Change is frightening, so there seems to be a great desire right now to return to what is perceived as past glory.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > Focusing on the positive …. so maybe scaring the hell

          My experience – so maybe different than someone else’s – is that The Church does rather little of either.

  2. Burro [Mule] says

    Two quotes come to mind having read this. One is more apropos of yesterday’s post:

    “When a man tells me with pride that he knows nothing outside the Bible, I am certain that he knows nothing inside it either.” – Oswald Chambers

    and then

    “The flock is starving for metaphysics, yet they are fed the thin gruel of morality” – Charles Williams

  3. I think Paul put an end to the meal in Corinthians. People were getting drunk and not sharing their food with people who had none. He essentially said drink and eat at home. Since then a meal has not been attached to the Eucharist.

    • First of all, Paul did not put an end to the meal. The “love feast” was common in the early church.

      Second, even if there is no meal per se, the form of gathering still takes the shape of a meal, with a symbolic meal at the Table as its climax. This has always been the shape of the liturgy.

      And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.

      • Justin Martyr, First Apology c. 150 AD

      • Heather Angus says

        Wow, Chaplain Mike. I didn’t even know about that quotation and description of a Christian service. That is frankly very encouraging to me, to know we are still doing what they did so very early in this faith. Thanks!

        • Robert F says

          Sometimes fish, and other foods as well, were an integral part of the Eucharistic celebration. It differed by locality and time period.

  4. >> . . . the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.

    Which sounds much more like a homily to me than a sermon. I find myself increasingly impatient with lectures in context of what is generally called a worship service. If someone is giving a Wednesday Bible study, that is a different matter, but even here I would much prefer half the time or more given to questions and comments. How much of the current pattern of Protestant preaching stems from the fact that Martin Luther was a professor of theology before he became a so called reformer? Every week I appreciate my Quaker meeting sans sermon more and more.

  5. In other words, the reading and proclamation of the Word is a community-forming act.

    Or should be, and if little of that is happening, there’s a glitch somewhere (perhaps with the hearers). Love that emphasis, all of what we say and do should help “put creation right”, and foster healthy, holy community.

    • Not just the reading and proclamation of the Word. There is also coming to the table in taking communion.

      • In churches where preaching is THE DEAL, communion is likely to be given short shrift at best, perfunctorily done, and made an afterthought at worst. I’m sure this doesn’t HAVE to be the case, but if the sermon is top dog, other dogs just don’t get invited to the table, it seems.

        Your comments about self reflection are very on target, KEN, and give me hope that IMONK won’t just morph into 50 shades of grey negativity over the long haul. At least I hope not.

      • When in KC, you must be my guest at Christchurch, Anglican for the Word, the Table, the Liturgy….. and the world’s best (perhaps) bar-b-que later.. my treat (the bar-b-que part)

  6. It looks like yesterdays discussion generated some good thought.
    Thank you Chaplain Mike for your encouragement about what goof preaching can look like, I have to agree that this is a good goal for all of us who are called upon to do pastoral work.

    • That is supposed to be good preaching. Goof preaching is perhaps what some of us have done in the past….

  7. “Whatever Became of Sin?” Karl Menninger – world renowed psychiatrist wrote the book of that title. I remember reading it – very insightful.

    • Rick Ro. says

      –“Whatever Became of Sin?”

      Covered by Jesus blood, last time I read my Bible.

      • Menninger’s book was prophetic. I remember looking through it in the 70s and how he spoke of the idea of sin vanishing from our culture. In those days it was a common topic in churches.

        Not anymore.

  8. solid words chaplain…you don’t happen to have any sermons we can listen to do you? I wish more in my denom, the dreaded sbc, would head these instructions and maybe we’d have more encouragement and learning, rather than politics and golden calves…

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