I’ve become a big fan of the concept known as GRACEFUL PREACHING. While this might be a new term for a few of you, it is definitely not a new concept. Perhaps it is easiest to explain in a threefold fashion:
First, preaching should be graceful in the sense of preachers not getting in front of a congregation and flopping all over themselves so as to distract from the good news of our grace-gifting God. We need to have a form and a structure to what we are doing so that our preaching can flow gracefully, not fail awkwardly.
Second, graceful in the sense that it is full of grace, all about grace and focused on God’s grace as a present reality in our lives and in this world. This is always possible. This is always needed. There are ways to even speak prophetically and deliver some hard truths while still focusing on that amazing grace!
Third, graceful in the sense that we need to be gracefully adapting to today’s world and not resisting every change or opportunity that comes our way. Paul Scott Wilson writes: “Every age must find its own way to revitalize the preaching task.” Are we gracefully accepting this task of preaching in the 21st century? Or are we unrefined in our unwillingness to be creative?
I offer to you now, some of the gleanings I have gathered in terms of GRACEFUL PREACHING. These are things I try to remember each week as I prepare for my Sunday morning:
A needed balm … John Rottman reminds us that people come into our churches tired, bloodied and bandaged many Sundays. They are not looking for additional to-do list items in order to become better Christians, they are looking for God’s grace to help keep them going as Christians. We need to practice Graceful Preaching, because “doing anything less is pastoral malpractice.”
Focus & structure … You need to have a clear vision for what you want to convey and you need a concise plan for how you can best convey that. Kristin Linklater writes: “Muddy thinking is the fundamental obstacle to clear articulation.” Graceful Preaching is neither vague nor haphazard.
Emphasize narrative … The grace of God does not enter people’s lives through bullet points or rhyming lists, God’s grace enters into the story of their life. Eugene Lowry puts it succinctly and encourages us to think of all preaching in these terms: “Preaching is storytelling.”
Fluid movements … Paul Scott Wilson emphasizes the need for us to start with and fully establish the bad news so that we can then move exclusively and solely into the good news. “Proclaim God’s amazing nurture and saving acts without further putting the burden of action on the congregation. We proclaim God’s faithful and redeeming love without hesitation, reserve, or condition.”
God-active language … Gennifer Brooks encourages the use of God-active language, which “gives the assurance that God is always working for the ultimate good of the people of God.” There is a subtle, yet significant difference between “we have God’s grace” and “God gifts us grace” in terms of agency, activity and theology.
Utilize active-verbs … Alyce McKenzie writes: “When we use active verbs rather than passive verbs, listeners can see the actions in their mind’s eye, not just be told about them conceptually.” Grace should never be left as an abstract concept in our preaching, but a vivid experienced reality.
Sensory descriptions … Frank Thomas says that if we want people to be able to experience the grace of God rather than just hear about the grace of God, “we must construct sermons that help people see, taste, hear, touch, and feel the gospel.”
Live grace … Kennon Callahan reminds us that we as preachers need to embrace the concept of grace in our own lives before we can fully proclaim it. “Live grace. The more you live a life of grace, not law, the more readily your sermons will help people discover grace.”
I hope this list stirs the Spirit within you for your own particular proclamation of the good news of our grace-gifting God! Blessings to each of you in your sermon preparations and I pray that you all enjoy your GRACEFUL PREACHING journey.
BRIAN CHRISTOPHER COULTER is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Aiken, South Carolina. He is a husband, father, pastor, author, blogger and pingpong champion who is pretty good at sidewalk chalk.