Fear and Loathing in Preaching

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The following has been excerpted from an article by Fr. Aris Metrakos,  entitled, On The Priesthood, and published in 2002 by Orthodoxytoday.org.

The more we pray, the better we preach. Why? Because it frees the Holy Spirit to guide the thoughts and words of the homilist. At the same time, preparing and delivering sermons is a skill that requires attention, perspiration, and revision. There are very few natural born preachers. Most good preachers just make it look effortless because they work hard preparing their sermons.

There are a variety of approaches to sermon preparation and delivery. Write it out and read it. Write it out and memorize it. Write it out and reduce it to an outline and use the outline when preaching. Write it out, reduce it to outline and memorize the outline. Write an outline and refer to the outline and notes as necessary in delivering the sermon. Write only an outline and commit it to memory.

It is never acceptable to show up and just start talking. This is especially true when preaching in a language that is not our mother tongue — no matter how well we think we speak that second language. Stream of consciousness worked for Hunter S. Thompson. For the rest of us, it only creates fear and loathing in the hearts of our listeners.

Preachers should record their sermons and listen to them. This helps us spot the linguistic quirks (rushing, not letting a period be a cadence, filler words such as “you know,” etc.) that keep our message from reaching the congregation.

Why all this attention to preaching? Is it to keep from being embarrassed? To look good? To gain favor? To justify a pay raise?

No. In the words of an older, much wiser priest, “When we preach, we are telling a group of people we love something that will save their lives.”

That’s why the craft of homiletics deserves so much attention.

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