Visit our new site at

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ask the Matriarch — The First Sermon

One sometimes-lurker wrote to us with the following anecdote and query. Unfortunately, our answers came in after her first preaching adventure, but this is something everyone faces the first time they come to the pulpit, preacher or not—and often not just the first time, either!

Last fall I began attending seminary at AMBS, and I just started the class I have been fearing for quite some time: Worship and Preaching!

I don't actually ever plan on being a pastor (but who knows!) as I have been working with and continue to feel called to working with the Kyrgyz people. In spite of all of this, I have my first sermon due this next week and I have never done this before! What would you recommend to someone that will have to preach for three minutes as an introduction to the class? We will be given a random (but not obscure) text with five minutes to prepare.

Most others in the class are already full-time pastors and have some experience in this area, so we are expected to dive right in without any real introduction as to where to start. We will receive feedback and further instruction after this first, very brief sermon, but I have nothing to prep myself with as of right now. Any tips, or things to keep in mind when I jump in, head first, for this impromptu sermon? This might seem like a little thing, but three minutes looks like an eternity from where I sit right now!

Any advice from those more experienced would be greatly appreciated!

Well, first of all, we hope you made it through those first three minutes ok—but we know that was just the first hurdle in your first preaching class. "Congratulations for accomplishing what you were so afraid of doing," writes Abi. "Now that you have done that for the class, you will experience the anxiety again the first time you preach in church. And no, you never know if or when God will call you to preach. While I never had to do what you did in seminary what you had to do, I have had to do just that in the parish or in various unexpected situations. One of my biggest ways to get ready is through prayer, centering myself, and meditation."

Peripatetic Polar Bear also commends you on a job well done—that assignment seems really challenging. But even though those three minutes may seem like forever, she puts it into perspective. "First, the average song on the radio is only 3 minutes long—that's not that long," she writes. "Next—three minutes is only one and half double-spaced pages! I bet you could roll out a 1.5 page essay in a heartbeat." And if you can't, I'm a professional writer and can likely help you learn to organize an essay on the fly.

But being a professional writer rather than a clergywoman, I haven't ever written a sermon. So as Jan explains, start by looking at what your purpose will be. "Three minutes is a peep of a sermon but the basic idea is to convey: what the passage meant when it was written, and what it means now to you and to your people," she says. "How does it make a difference in our lives and why does it matter? In three minutes, you can't cover all this territory, but I'd start by reading the lesson over and over again (a la lectio divina) and see where the Spirit takes you. And be your best real self."

Think of this as an exercise in speaking extemporaneously, which you'll have opportunities to do as well. "Really, you normally get more than 5 minutes to prepare, so don't base whether or not you like it on this exercise!" says PPB.

A preaching primer
Here are a few tips on preparing sermons from our Matriarchs. First, from PPB:

  • Preach to the people gathered, not your judgmental 3rd grade teacher who's still living inside your head.
  • Preach the word you most need to hear. Generally, with longer prep time, you'll expand that reach, but if you're really stuck and short of time, preach the word you need to hear--chances are, it's what others need to hear, too.

And from Abi:
  • Study the scripture/readings and mull it over during the week. Does anything stand out to you? Words? Sentences? Feelings?
  • Things will start to come to you: Jot them down. Movies, art, pictures, books, something from your life, or something another person you know is going through that is relevant.
  • Ask God what God wants to say to the church through this passage.
  • As you start to put your sermon together, you may or may not use the material you've written. Be open to what comes to you!

Abi's Recommended Reading
Ooh, I've missed Abi's book notes! She's back. Yay for Spring!

She writes:
"For those who are working on sermons and preaching, I would like to recommend you read Barabara Brown Taylor's Preaching Life, Also read her sermons, and watch the videos made of her, but don't try to be her, see what you can learn from her.

"Also read The Fully Alive Preacher: Recovering from Homiletical Burnout by Mike Graves, Barbara Brown Taylor. Books by Thomas Long. Preaching by Fred Craddock. There are many others, and I have to say, I really date myself by the not knowing some of the latest grand preacher's books. But I would like to recommend also the Festival of Homiletics in May where you can hear, see, and learn from the greats in preaching"—and meet some other RevGalBlogPals, too.

Don't forget our Tuesday Lectionary Leanings and 11th Hour Preacher Parties, too!

Remember, you're starting out on something amazing, as Jan says. And, PPB adds, "Good luck. Preaching is great fun, great pain, and a great opportunity!"


  1. that assignment made me cringe, but as usual the Matriarchs are excellent!

    the question we ask around here in our staff lectionary study is "what is the good news for us in this text?" It often helps us quickly focus our thoughts.

    that's my 1/2 cent for today...

  2. My preaching prof did a similar exercise, except she gave us a few days and expected a complete exegesis along with a manuscript every time.

    But we started with five minute sermons, then ten minute, then 20 minute.

    I don't know if it made me a better preacher, but it made me a quicker exegete.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.