When Sermon Design Meets Artistic Expression

Earlier this week, I had a Zoom meeting with a United Methodist colleague in which the topic of conversation was preaching.

As part of the Simplify The Message ministry, some of my friends in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference invite me to give guidance to younger clergy who are in the ordination process.  It’s an honor to be asked and I enjoy the work very much.

Anyway, in this particular Zoomversation, my new friend — who is both Spirit-filled and biblically-formed — and I were talking about sermon design.  Her delivery is excellent.  In the message we were evaluating, however, her design needed tweaking.

Essentially, she had given the answer away at the beginning of the sermon, and then spent the rest of the time explaining the answer.  It was what we’d call a deductive sermon: start with the premise and then spell out its implications throughout the body of the sermon.

I was trying to explain the value of a sermon adventure where tension builds throughout the earlier part of the message until a biblically faithful and rhetorically compelling bottom line helps to solve the dilemma in a memorable way.  The preacher delays the gratification of sermon resolution until towards the end of the message, thereby building tension and interest throughout the journey.

During the conversation my new Spirit-filled friend mentioned that ministry is her second career.  He first was in the world of professional dance.  As in, the kind of dancing that happens in elite studios and venues in New York City.

And so an analogy hit me:  “Treat your sermon as a work of art!  The meaning of art always emerges from it rather than being imposed upon it.”

That made sense to her.  Once an artist, always an artist.

Then we came up with an even better way of articulating it:  “How about you choreograph your sermons?  With your gifting, a sermon can be spoken choreography.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see where she goes with that notion of spoken choreography.  With the anointing of the Holy Spirit, I suspect quite far indeed.