January 24, 2021

The Pastor: Preparing to Preach through Attention and Imagination

Today, a rich quote from Gordon W. Lathrop on preparing to preach. This is not so much about the “nuts and bolts” of preparing a manuscript but rather about how preaching grows out of the pastor’s life, prepared through paying attention and engaging his or her imagination.

I want a pastor like this. I want to be a pastor like this. No more Bible lectures or sterile apologetic proofs. No more shallow moralizing. No more insensitive rants that fail to take into account the actual situations of real people. No more cliched optimism. No more posing.

Don’t tell me stories about your life. Tell me about life. Help me imagine it. Introduce me to the One who gives it, and let me feel the wind in my face.

613EHnHjnfL._SL1076_For me, then, because I am a preacher of the church, continual practice in attention and imagination must be a part of my daily round. I read novels and go to a few films, chosen with critical discretion, so that I might imagine the situation of other people and pay attention to the ways fine artists envision the world. I read a little history and some ethnography, and I try to listen carefully to the personal stories that are told to me, not immediately imposing my meaning on them. I listen to the Scripture as we read it at our dinner table and to the great stories we read aloud before we go to bed. I watch the trees and birds outside my window. I walk on the streets of my city, watching faces, and I walk in the nearby woods, attending to the actual place on the earth where I live. In both places — streets and woods — I try to see what is happening. I pursue interests in other cultures than here, other places away from here. I go to museums and to art shows. I try to keep learning languages other than those I already know. I try to see if I can observe in what ways women and men, young people and older people, gay people and straight people may or may not differ in their experience of the world. I read a good newspaper, carefully and critically, though I do not watch much television, my feeling being that there is usually very little there that will surprise me. I read the Scripture alone, seeking to hold myself before Christ in the text, continually surprised by Christ in the text, eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ in the text. For me this lectio divina, the “news,” pastoral care, walking, personal reading, family life, and my personal encounters with other cultures and other languages all make up part of the preparation for preaching. Seldom do such exercises yield an “illustration” for a sermon. Rather, they function to train my attention and imagination. It is attention and imagination I must bring to the preparation for preaching.

– Gordon W. Lathrop
The Pastor: A Spirituality


  1. It truly is a wonderful thing that the Lord uses the poor words of the preacher for His perfect purpose.

    There are so many ways in which a preacher can go with the preaching of the Word. So much freedom to use his/her attention and imagination. As long as he/she stays faithful to that Word (which is Christ) handed over in law and gospel.

  2. “It is attention and imagination I must bring to the preparation for preaching.”

    Good line and so true, I would say, never having been a preacher myself.

  3. Too daring!

  4. We differ, maybe, on wanting to hear the pastor,s personal stories. But I would welcome the stories of a person trained in the way Lathrop describes. Excellent quote, the attention to others speaks loudly about the intentionality of the real pastor’s heart.

  5. Seems the key to good preaching is having the richness of experience that Lathrop describes and being able to draw the larger vision from it, so that the preacher then speaks of life not just about his/her life, as you say, Chap. Mike. Far too often, however, congregations hear much too much about a preacher’s personal life, family, etc. In my view, it reflects a lack of depth & imagination & the gospel becomes like thin gruel–something to fill us but not life sustaining.

  6. Grandfather Trout says

    I believe a quote attributed to Oswald Chambers goes something like this:

    “Ministers should be well-read. A man can only experience so much in the body, but wide reading supplements this in ways that cannot be overstated. A man who boasts to me that he reads nothing outside the Bible has just confessed to me that he understands nothing inside it.”

Speak Your Mind