The Social Solitude Of Preaching

Preaching is an intensely solitary activity.

Preaching is a thoroughly social exercise.

Which is it?  Solitary or social?


My own process of preparation is wholly wrapped in solitude.  I study, I jot, I brainstorm, I fret, I pray, I get excited, I become depressed, I write . . . all on my own.  At my desk in the office or at my dining room table at my home.  The only input I get during that process is some occasional wordsmithing advice I receive from trusted friends.

And while I work several weeks in advance, I still need to prepare a message almost every week.  And until the last word is written and the printed sermon is in the “hopper” . . . I’m not terribly social around the office. But when it’s done . . . I’m full of high fives, stop-by-your-office-to-shoot-the-breeze, and the casual conversations that make working environments worthwhile.

So sermonizing is inherently solitary.

But sermon delivery is by definition social.  (Unless attendance at Good Shepherd declines to zero, something I don’t have much interest in being part of.)

There is a gathered community.  I see responses — or lack thereof — on people’s faces and in their posture.  Some register the “a-ha! I never knew that before!” look that lets me know I have engaged their mind. Others betray the “that hit close to home” look that lets me know I have engaged their heart.

The preaching event is, as I shared earlier this week, a shared journey towards a common destination.  We in the room do it together, and if we do it well people don’t feel I’m preaching at them but preaching with them.

So: solitary preparation leads to social delivery.

It’s why some of the best preachers you’ve ever heard are inescapably introverted in their personal lives.  And it’s also why a few of the “hail fellow well met” types can’t preach their way out of a paper bag.

And it’s all part of the ambiguity that makes preaching an endlessly fascinating endeavor at Good Shepherd.