In my efforts to encourage an accessible and compelling conversational style in preaching, I sometimes fear that I have not given adequate consideration to the value of a well turned phrase. Particularly, in my efforts to speak extemporaneously I have sometimes sacrificed precision for the sake of presence, and while I would certainly default toward communicating accessibly, I can forget that taking care with one’s expressions can also create access to truth for listeners through a more exact description of the things we have in mind.
Of course, extemporaneous preaching allows for well prepared content to find its expression in the orality of a given moment. This is its power, that the message is not stale, but alive in the moment of its expression. To memorize a sermon for oral presentation is not the same as to “preach by ear” (see Dave McClellan). Memorization gives rise to recitation which is likely to be just as stale as something that is read aloud to listeners.
This is not to say, however, that we should crab and memorize nothing of our sermons. Actually, a few well-placed, well-turned phrases, will be especially potent within the larger context of an extemporaneous sermon.
For example, in a recent sermon on Mark 10, I said that “In the inverted Kingdom, the first will be last and the last will be first, those who lose everything will gain the whole world, as those who are the least of these will end up the greatest of all.”
That one was worth memorizing and when I said it in the sermon, it rolled smoothly of the tongue. The statement was significant for the sermon and it stood out because of its crafting against thee more organic expressions offered throughout the sermon. Thinking about the rhythm of a statement, how it sounds as well as what it says is also a thing we need to think about.
Obviously the sermon theme statement would be important to craft, as well perhaps, as the sermon’s opening and closing lines. These are the structural pieces which can make or break your sermons.
We need to polish words so that they shine. Not all of them, probably, but some of them. A phrase turned out with care, is a phrase that is worthy to be shared.