Does Good Preaching Exhort Or Evoke?

I was speaking with a good friend awhile back about the difference between exhortational preaching and evocative preaching.

Exhortational preaching challenges. Urges. Implores. It is filled with phrases like “you should” and “we ought” and “do this” and “consider that.” It challenges people to change beliefs and behaviors based on the propositions included in the sermon.

Evocative preaching is different. It seeks to evoke a response in the hearer; to craft the kind of experience that moves the emotions before it speaks to the mind. Fewer imperatives. More rhetorical questions. It’s heavy on images, often leaves the “punch line” to the end, and sometimes leaves the implications of the message in the hands of the listener. The experience of the message as much as the content of the message will empower people to change beliefs and behaviors.

I believe evocative preaching communicates well with 21st Century people — people who are often skeptical of authority and yet accustomed to receiving their information from screen-based images.

I typically strive to be more evocative than exhortational in my messages — though I’m not sure how often I reach the goal.

When done well, evocative preaching can even open the way for exhortational preaching: as the proclaimer engages the hearts and minds of listeners, he or she then has the trust, space, and freedom to issue challenges.

Even blunt ones.