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Preaching from the heart

Preaching from the heart

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton at her blog Telling Secrets, challenges herself to preach without a text or notes in Preaching from the Heart:

I’ve tried it, from time to time, over the years. But, I’ve really been attempting serious application of this theory on Sunday and major holidays.

Here’s some of the things I’ve learned:

First, this is not as easy as it looks. Seriously.

And, let me tell you from first hand experience, it’s not for sissies. …

I was … taught that one ought to strive to make The Breaking Open of The Word no longer than The Breaking Open of The Bread. So, 10-15 minutes tops. Which is – generally (ahem) – no problem, if one is reading from a manuscript and reading the Eucharistic Prayer from the BCP.  However, if one is “preaching from a prepared heart”, the almost irresistible seduction in hearing the sound of one’s own voice and connecting visually with the eyes and faces of others is to . . . well, to put it kindly . . . wander….

It takes preparation of study and paying attention to what is happening for the congregation and focus during the preaching of the sermon. Read more about the challenge and breathtaking experience of preaching without a manuscript here.

Without a Net: Preaching in the Paperless Pulpit by William Shepherd is another resource.

“Pieter Brueghel the Younger Preaching” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger -Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

posted by Ann Fontaine


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Fr. Tim Sean Youmans

I’m a little uncomfortable with the implied notion that speaking from a thoughtfully crafted manuscript isn’t from the heart. I’ve heard way too many sermons that are “spirit led” that end up being clumsy and thin. To put in the genuine work it takes to say something of substance with some precision is an act of care and love. And that is in great part what Mthr. Elizabeth is saying about manuscript free preaching–to be any good one has to put in the work. Like all things, there should be a balance. A good preacher likely does a smattering of every approach. But let’s not confuse extemporaneous with heartfelt, to often it’s just laziness disguised as earnestness.

Tim Sean Youmans+
Diocese of Oklahoma

Emily Windsor

Preaching from the heart only appears extemporaneous; it is actually a highly-rehearsed, completely memorized sequence of thoughts that lead your audience into a state of bliss.

The way to master this skill is to practice speaking off-the-cuff about primary concepts until your story has “jelled” and you know exactly where you’re leading the audience . . . to open up the heart and permit acceptance of a foreign idea.

Famous national leaders and movers do this. Adverts do this. In fact, there is so little verbal room from one statement to the next, there’s no way to intercede an objection.

Salesmen are notorious for this skill of moving people to do what is not in their best interest of thrift. Televangelists master the art of speaking to the heart . . . and of course, this is why it’s a dangerous and risky skill: Somebody might actually change their behavior, mortify their family, act on a new idea that’s been anathema all this time.

Be in the moment and leave the old beliefs, the old practices, the old policies, behind.

God! That would wreck everything if people were to change their opinions about what is an appropriate choice!


Paul Woodrum

Extemporaneous preaching works best in a smaller church where one can connect with folks on a conversational level. It is important to be able to summarize the sermon in one sentence with which one should begin and end. Stick to no more than three sub-points which also need to be clearly stated before and after being expanded. If something is mangled or forgotten, forge on, be humorous about it, or even ask the congregation where you were or what the point was from which you departed or the name that slipped your mind. If listeners seem to be wondering, just say “sex,” in context or out, and their attention will return. It requires as much prep and discipline as writing out the sermon. It may be less eloquent, but tends to be more immediate and can take a lot of practice to be comfortable with out the security of a text some of which I’m more and more seeing read from laptops rather than scripts.

Paul Woodrum

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