“I’m tired of my own preaching. Any tips for spicing things up?” joked Jeremy as he sat down with his coffee in front of Andrew, his “drinking buddy.” Then Jeremy added a loud “BAM!” just like Emeril Lagasse would, while adding Tabasco to his scrambled eggs.
“I just might have some flavors you could add,” Andrew replied, as he grabbed the bottle of hot sauce like this was some sort of cooking competition and splashed the hot sauce lavishly as well. “I’ve ‘kicked it up a notch’ over at our church by adding multi-sensory elements like video clips, poetry, visual aids, songs from pop culture, and other creative expressions that add ‘heat’ to my sermons. Implementing these necessitates employing a different development process than many sermon ‘chefs’ are willing to practice, not to mention a mindset toward risk in order to feed your congregation something they’re not used to chewing.”
“Mind sharing your recipe secrets?” Jeremy asked. “My preaching is tasting a bit bland.”
“Sure you’re up for it? Not everyone in your congregation will like it HOT. You’re opening yourself up to criticism,” his friend said with snarky sarcasm.
Though both just passed the age of 40, Jeremy is a newcomer to ministry life. He made a career shift in his mid-30s, attending seminary and serving a denominational internship before accepting his current call as the senior pastor of Heartland Church, situated on a busy street in a suburban neighborhood.
Andrew, on the other hand, is a ministry veteran. He pastors New Community Church, a congregation located near the heart of the city. Before becoming the lead pastor of New Community, Andrew served as the adult education pastor for that same congregation. His Christian education major from an “Ivy League” evangelical college was useful in developing a robust curriculum of adult discipleship for the grateful New Community congregation. When the previous pastor died unexpectedly eight years ago, Andrew began the difficult process of transitioning from adult education pastor to his current role as lead pastor.
Admittedly, his learning curve was high, and because he came into the role late, he looked to best practices wherever he could find them, especially from Christian education theory and practice. Andrew began employing principles into preaching practice from educational philosophy and methodology he had used in the church’s Sunday and midweek discipleship with encouraging results. This included insisting on getting a team involved in the same way he had done with discipleship curriculum in his former role.
Everyone learns differently, so it made sense to Andrew that a team of unique individuals would be able to develop a more encompassing delivery style for the weekly message. Andrew suggested four ideas for Jeremy’s consideration to spice up his bland preaching.
Plan the Menu Early
One essential step for implementing creative elements as a part of sermon delivery is for the preacher to create a synopsis, documenting the content of the sermons months in advance of when the sermon or sermon series will be preached. Working ahead allows sufficient time for other team members to consider how the sermon’s content can best be delivered more deliciously while maintaining the nutritional value to feed the appetites of hungry sermon hearers.
“The way I’m doing it,” said Andrew, “is to get away for a personal retreat several times a year. I leave on Sunday afternoon and come back on Wednesday afternoon. I spend Sunday relaxing and getting settled. I prefer to take my spouse or another same-sex staff member with me as long as they will respect my space. I typically fast the day on Monday and Tuesday. I spend Monday morning in prayer and personal preparation. And by the afternoon, I’m ready to turn my attention toward the upcoming series of messages.”
“How far in advance are you working?” asked Jeremy.
“Ideally, if the series of messages begins in January, I’m taking a retreat in November. If it is summer and early fall that I’m preparing for, I’ll work to have that synopsis ready mid-April. I can usually do four months at a time, especially if you consider Sundays planned for guest speakers and special events,” Andrew explained. “Also, I’ve been keeping a file of Scriptures and topics that I want to deal with. I prayerfully consider what books of the Bible I want to cover. I solicit input from our lay board and the staff, and invite suggestions from the congregation. I usually take a box full of books, tapes and journal articles that I’ve been collecting in a corner of my office. Obviously, I’ve been thinking about the upcoming quarter already. Then I prayerfully decide which sermons and series we’ll be doing.”
Jeremy interrupted, “What do you include in the synopsis? I’m assuming you don’t work up an outline at that point, do you?”
“No, of course not. My goal is to get my mind around the subject. I’m asking myself, ‘What is the question that I’m seeking to shed light on?’ I have to do enough work with the text to insure that I’m being faithful to biblical preaching principles, but I don’t have to nail down the conclusions just yet,” explained Andrew.
“To answer your question, I include a rough draft of the series and message titles, related Scripture passages, a description of the subject that we’ll be talking about, and why I think it matters to the listeners. Finally, I include any creative thoughts I have about songs, video clips, poetry, and anything from pop culture that may be helpful for the team I will be sharing the synopsis with, to make clear what I’m intending with each message. More on that later, just hang with me. What I produce on the retreat may not be ready for the team’s eyes yet, but with a few hours of editing upon return, I’m ready to release it for the next level of input.”
“What’s the job of the team?” Jeremy asked.
A Preaching Team as Sous Chefs
“Recruiting a team may be the biggest challenge for preachers wanting to implement these culinary techniques into their homiletical practice,” answered Andrew. “I’m proposing that it’s rare these days for a pastor to go into the study alone during the week preceding the sermon and return with a manuscript ready for delivery. Instead, I’m saying that preaching to an emerging generation of sermon hearers should include a kitchen staff!
“Once the synopsis is complete, team members receive a copy with a date set for a daylong work session. The purpose of the work session is to break down into moves the subjects the preacher has identified. These moves, once outlined, allow the team members to work on how they can contribute to the delivery of the sermon.
“The preparation of the sermon’s central truth and main ideas gives ample time for the members of the team to work on their art. Though the core of the message will not be developed until the week preceding the sermon, supporting materials will be ready in advance for the preacher to choose from. Invited sous chefs make various contributions to the creative preaching process,” concluded Andrew.
“So, who gets to help in the kitchen? How do you decide who is a sous chef?” Jeremy asked curiously.
“In addition to the preacher, one of the team members should be a leader in the art community of the church. Usually this person is the music pastor; however for less-assumptive fare, their interests and responsibilities must extend beyond hymns and praise choruses. This person needs to have an ‘ear’ for the culture and a feel for the language of the arts community at large. Congregations are made of a generation used to iTunes instead of hymnals, YouTube and flash mobs in place of choirs. You must find team members in touch with this aspect of society.”
“Another team member of the preaching kitchen should be a research assistant. This individual is one who loves to read, study and search the internet for relevant support material to add to the sermon. They will provide the pastor with statistics, contemporary illustrations and sermonic materials related to the passage and subject being preached.
“It is also helpful for the team to include a scribe. While the other team members are busy discussing great concepts and potential creative teaching methods, the scribe is responsible for writing it down for future reference. This person sends a copy of the notes to the other team members. Ideally, within days the scribe has some training in rhetorical skills that help enhance the clarity of what’s ‘plated’ on Sunday. The scribe helps the speaker organize his or her thoughts and and edit accordingly.”
“Interesting,” said Jeremy. “Anyone else?”
“Two other planning team members may include an image-preferred learner and a target group representative. This may be the same person, though not necessarily. The image-preferred learner thinks in analogies or word pictures by default. Ideally, this person has expertise in the field of photography and/or videography, and can support the sermons with interviews, creative clips produced in-house and various moving images on screen. At the very least, they love movies and YouTube, and are knowledgeable about what makes a good story.
“The target group representative can verify objections the team thinks the congregation will have to the proposed messages and represents the attitudes of the learners experiencing the sermon.
“Members of this team, especially the preacher, the arts leader and the research assistant will meet weekly to evaluate the effectiveness of the previous sermon and to decide which elements will be implemented for the upcoming sermon.
“It should go without saying that some of these sous chefs might have their own teams who are essential for producing these creative elements. You have additional staff to assist your worship pastor, don’t you Jeremy? Of course you do, but don’t forget about non-paid staff/volunteers as well. Music, video and drama teams are examples,” Andrew finished.
“So you’re saying I need to go on a personal retreat and recruit a team,” said Jeremy. “What’s next?”
Think Like Emeril
“Well, it seems safe to observe that most church communicators are word-preference learners. Their appreciation and understanding for the art culture is typically low. Their thinking is linear, rational and highly objective. This is good and essential for faithful exposition of revelation. However, spicy preaching demands more.”
“Successful implementation of multi-sensory methods into the delivery of sermons also depends on the creative thinking of the preacher during the sermon preparation process. Though supplemented, the majority of the sermon is still made up of the preacher’s words. It is incumbent on the preacher to continue to work hard at biblical preaching with an edge for the creative. In other words, you have to enlarge your own palate.” Andrew paused long enough for Jeremy to chime in.
“How do you recommend I do that?” Jeremy asked on cue.
“I’m glad you asked,” said Andrew smiling. “One of the things a preacher can do is simply to observe art. Take a cooking class. Attend art fairs and art exhibitions. Observe, ask questions. Entering into an artist’s world can stretch preachers in their own appreciation of art and more fully tap into their own ‘creative juices.’”
“Another option is to take classes in a variety of creative activities. Participation in a pottery class, watercolor painting, art appreciation or tutoring in film forms and processes are all examples of opportunities of which preachers may avail themselves.”
“Finally, the easiest creative activity for most preachers to do is to read books on the subject. The book Preaching that Connects by Galli and Larson is a must-read for the preacher wanting to grow in creative process. This book suggests journalism techniques that preachers can employ to create a manuscript or an outline that captures the heart as well as the mind. Chapters include suggestions on effective storytelling techniques, choosing the best words to communicate the message, ideas for producing fitting conclusions and other helpful suggestions for preaching clear and relevant sermons. And, Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts by Steve Turner is a ‘Betty Crocker’ of sorts for preachers wanting to grapple with the role of art in proposition.”
Andrew continued, “Doing these kinds of activities and others suggested in the resources should enhance the preacher’s competency in creative thinking. It is hoped that the result of enhanced creative thinking during sermon development is a manuscript/outline that more effectively captures the attention of the hearers and engages their learning needs. It’s delicious to more palates. It’s spicy!”
“Okay,” said Jeremy. “Three steps down, one to go, right?”
“Right,” said Andrew. “The last is you have to prep for the meal.”
Prep for the Meal
“The final necessary step to integrating creative elements into a sermon is to practice necessary transitions prior to the service,” continued Andrew. “When multiple people are involved in the sermon’s delivery, cues from the sermon outline or manuscript must be noted, and transitions from one element to another should be practiced. Something as simple as when to roll a table holding an object lesson onto the platform needs to be practiced to avoid being distracting.
“A separate cue sheet from the sermon manuscript/outline may be created as well. This will include any spicy elements in the weekend service(s). The cue sheet serves as a reminder to all involved as to the service order and the times when participants should be in their places ready to go!
“A service director may be recruited to coordinate the run-through and call the cues during the service itself. This individual orchestrates the total constellation of tech, music, preaching and other multi-sensory methods used during the service. They troubleshoot problems.
“Rehearsing the transitions of creative elements used before, after and during the preaching may seem awkward to the preacher and participants doing it for the first time. However, it must be taken seriously in order to insure a quality dining experience. Sermon chefs prep the meal!” Andrew mumbled something about no one appreciating what it took, before growing quiet.
Jeremy waited while Andrew ended his short pity party and restated what he had heard his friend say. “So, you’re saying that there are at least four essential steps for church leaders to ‘spice up’ their sermons and begin implementing multi-sensory methods into their sermons. The first one is the preacher producing a synopsis of the sermons months in advance. Is that right?”
“Next,” continued Jeremy, “the preacher assembles a team to assist in the deployment of new tools for their culinary homiletic. You also suggested that there are things preachers can do to grow in their own abilities as it relates to the creative process. You want me to take up finger-painting.”
“Did I say finger-painting?” asked Andrew with a smile. “I meant to say mitten-crocheting.”
They both laughed before Jeremy concluded, “The final step you suggested is the need to rehearse transitions. Do I have it all?”
“That’s pretty much it. Identifying the four steps just mentioned seems to minimize the work involved in creating and coordinating all the potential teaching tools we’ve suggested. Many of these need tech equipment that can be expensive and that takes a financial investment on the part of the church to purchase. It’s not the cheapest way to do ministry. A church will have to prioritize spicy preaching in its budget in order for it to become a reality,” said Andrew.
“Not to mention, a commitment of this kind impacts the personnel budget of the church as well,” he continued. “Much of this can be done with volunteers, but if the attendance and interest grows, as I think it will in a church that implements these principles, then the volunteers recruited and the props needed will demand additional staff to oversee.”
“Hmm … I hadn’t considered that,” Jeremy said, as he finished his last cup of coffee and moved the Tabasco to the side. “These ideas need to be implemented systematically through careful planning. The consequences of their execution may be bigger than I first realized, but so is their potential for impact on an emerging generation.
“Look, Andrew,” Jeremy continued. “I don’t know how to thank you for your time. Today has stretched my thinking and given me a renewed interest in preaching. I’m anxious to get back into the kitchen and have my way with some gourmet seasonings in my sermons. Will you be my Iron Chef? Let’s meet up again next week.”
“Funny you should ask, because I was going to suggest that very thing,” Andrew responded. “I can’t imagine what I’d do next Wednesday morning if I had to sit in this diner alone. Besides, there is still Tabasco sauce left in this bottle.”