16 March 2010

Sermons should be preached and not read.

Perhaps you've heard them too: sermons that are read and not preached. The content of the sermon may be good or even great. However, when the preacher's nose is stuck on the manuscript or notes and his eyes are diverted from the hearers, something is missing. And our hearers know it too.

Oh, I've also been guilty of this, especially when I'm not as prepared as I would like to be ... or truly should be. Or maybe I wanted to get just the right wording from my written words on the page into the spoken words for the faithful. However, I've started thinking differently about the preaching task and my growth as a preacher.

Sermons should be preached and not read!

Yes, the content of sermons needs to be well-prepared and absolutely faithful to the Scriptures, the Creeds and Confessions of the Church, and the faith once delivered to the saints. Yes, sermons need to edify and nourish the faithful sheep of Good Shepherd Jesus in His redeeming words and works. But let's also embrace and highly prize some good delivery in which the preacher actually engages the hearers--no, not with antics, jokes, or cheap gags, but with the simple courtesy of things like eye-contact and some conversational proclamation of God's Good News in Christ Jesus.

With this general concept in mind, I've gone to preaching more from outline notes than from a manuscript. Consequently, I can't really post "the sermon" here on the blog to be read. After all, the sermon is really meant to be a "heard word" rather than a "read word." Wasn't it Luther who quipped that the Church is not a pen-house but rather a "mouth-house"?

So now I'm making some audio files of sermons available. In the left hand column under "Sermons" you can now find a gadget with a link to the audio files of my Sunday sermons. These are sermons that I've preached since returning from my sabbatical last summer, beginning with Holy Trinity Sunday, 2009. Just follow the directions in the left hand column and you should be able to listen just fine.

I hope you will find this resource helpful, especially because sermons should be preached and not read.


  1. Dr. Nagel seems to be at odds in his practice with your pronouncement of what delivery a sermon is really meant to be.

  2. You'll have to enlighten me on what exactly the good Dr. has done or said on the matter.

  3. your simple word, "conversational," has really helped me to not only re-think, but "re-practice"... one of my elders especially has noted that my sermon delivery has improved quite a bit after I read this post and started preaching more conversationally. Thanks Randy.
    (been meaning to come back to post this comment for months now.)

  4. James, you may be interested in checking out www.preachbyear.com. It focuses on sermon delivery as an oral phenomenon rather than a literary one as it draws from Walter Ong's distinction between orality and literacy. In fact it even reminds me of Luther's addage about the Church being a "mouth-house" not a "pen-house."