Tips for Creative Preaching
Know the Text – The text of scripture you are preaching on should be your main inspiration. You cannot create a relevant message for your congregation if you do not know the text. Live in the text. Be inspired by the text. The best sermons are not the ones that simply repeat the text and then move on, but are the ones in which every word, story, and example in the sermon has been influenced by the text.
Look For Hints of Artistry in the Text and Use Them – Biblical texts often include poetry, songs, motifs, etc. Use what is already available to you. Martin Luther King Jr. was great at this. He would take a powerful biblical motif like “going up to the mountain” and then incorporate that into his speech (“I’ve been to the mountaintop”). The last time I preached on the Magnificat I talked about the power of song, and then I looked for songs that were directly influenced by the Magnificat. I chose Magnificent by U2 and used part of the lyrics in my sermon. The sermon was not about singing. It was about magnifying the Lord, but I allowed the artistry in the text to influence how I crafted my sermon.
Pay Attention to People Who Create – If you want to be creative in your preaching, then pay attention to people who create. Follow and learn about influential artists, musicians, directors, etc. How do they create their art? What are their secrets? It doesn’t matter that they are not preachers. They are working through the creative process just as you are. Although Bruce Springsteen is a popular musician, when he wrote his songs he thought about movies. He wanted his songs to contain mental images that would play in the listeners head. He incorporated what he learned from another creative process into his songwriting. Pay attention to people who are good at creating, and look for things that will be helpful to you.
Find Something that Inspires You – It may be music, film, literature, nature, or something else, but find something that inspires you. Once you have found something inspiring, then spend time each week with it. Go to the movies. Listen to music. Read a book. Spend time outdoors. Play with your kids. Don’t look at this time as work. Don’t go to a movie, or start reading a book thinking you will find a sermon illustration. Do these things because you are passionate about them. Do them because they inspire you.
Follow Artists Who Have Something to Say – Find artists who are passionate about something, and study how they convey their message. My favorite film of last year was The Tree of Life. I loved it because Terrence Malick was able to portray the Christian message through film, in a way no one had done before. U2 often sings about God, faith, and Christianity, but they convey their message in a much different way than contemporary Christian artists. Bruce Springsteen is passionate about injustice, and that passion can be heard in many of his songs. Don’t just follow any artist, but follow the ones who are moved by something bigger than themselves.
Know the Difference Between Real Art and Cheap Entertainment – If your sermon illustration is from Transformers 3, then you have already failed. Real art is what moves and inspires people. Cheap entertainment is shallow and always changing. Which of these do you want your sermon to resemble?
Write, Write, Write, and Write Some More – Knowing your text takes time. You have to read books and look things up. You have to devote hours of your time to familiarizing yourself with God’s word. The creative part of your sermon is no different. It takes time. The discipline of writing has helped me to be more creative. Start a blog. Begin a journal. Write some articles. Write a review. Writing will help you be a better writer. It will help you with grammar and vocabulary. It will help you choose the right words, which is important in preaching, and it will help you be creative.
Don’t Fake It - Creativity should come from within. It should be organic and natural. Don’t steal other people’s stuff because you think it sounds cool. People can easily recognize a fake. Know the text, know your congregation, and be yourself.
Study the Experts – Read great works of literature. Listen to speakers who know how to captivate an audience. Pay attention to their words! I love reading Eugene Peterson, not just because he is a good theologian, but because he has a way with words. Paying attention to how he uses words and tells stories, makes me a better writer and speaker. Be influenced by people who know what they are doing.
Find Your Own Voice – This doesn’t happen right away, and it may take some time. That’s ok. Fred Craddock developed his style of preaching because he did not have a powerful booming voice like others. Instead of trying to imitate others, he decided to do things in a way that better suited himself. You need to preach the word of God, but the creativity and style in which you do it should be your own.