Backstory Preaching was born from the recognition that preachers have precious few resources to grow their preaching skills after seminary or local training.
And too often, preachers have few opportunities to work with other preachers.
As a result, I spend much of my time thinking about how to create opportunities for preachers to work together and studying models of how such collaboration can be most effective.
So I was excited to hear the Rev'd Doyt Conn, Epiphany Episcopal, Seattle, share the collaborative structure he's created for his staff—a mutual evaluation and learning process they use every week— at a terrific conference last week.
His process contains many of the vital elements and attendant benefits that we're building into our offerings here. Consider their process to see what being part of a dedicated community of preachers can do to improve your sermons.
Weekly Sermon Critique
On Tuesdays, the staff and a parishioner they've invited gather to review and critique the previous Sunday's sermon. The member of the congregation varies so the staff hear different voices and perspectives.
By critiquing one another's sermons, they learn what works and what doesn't.
The clergy listen to the sermon with an ear tuned to craft. As fellow professionals who understand the demands of sermon prep, they work to draw out the best from that preacher for their next sermon. Taking into account each preacher's unique voice, noting best content and delivery practices as well as choices that didn't work. This process helps every preacher on staff develop more tools and strategies for effective preaching.
The parishioner listens with a different focus: to be fed by the Word. They are not listening for craft techniques. They are listening to hear Christ in their midst, to hear Good News and feel an increased capacity to share it. Moreover, parishioners are likely to catch us when we slip into confusing, high-fallutin' theological and biblical jargon instead of plain speech.
Parishioners are the barometer of whether our preaching techniques and strategies served the purpose of the sermon.
Wisdom of the Community
After the sermon critique, the clergy and laity read and discuss the coming Sunday's lessons. They draw out insights from about the Scriptures and how it addresses the needs and concerns of the community and world.
Both the staff and parishioners offer wisdom based on their own experiences, study, and backgrounds, rounding out the preacher's own ideas.
This community of preachers is serious about getting their sermons done on time.
By Thursday, the preacher has not only written a sermon draft, but the draft has been distributed to the other clergy, an administrative assistant, and the head of Christian Education.
As the Rev'd Conn describes it, the draft is usually a total mess. But after receiving feedback that day, the preacher has enough information to take that mess and rewrite it into an effective sermon. The revision is then distributed again to be graded—yes, graded—and returned to the preacher by Friday.
Excellence in Revision and Practice
The Rev'd Conn promises his congregation they will never hear less than a "B" sermon. After receiving this second round of feedback, the preacher continues revising—sometimes significantly, sometimes just tweaks. And then, the sermon is practiced.
The Rev'd Conn emphasized practice.
The choir practices their music, the servers practice their movements, and the lectors practice the Scripture readings; so why shouldn't the clergy practice their sermon? Why wouldn't we want our sermon delivery to be as prepared as the choir?
Critique and practice ensure that the sermon is as well-crafted as possible before delivery.
By grounding this entire process in a culture of prayer, mutual respect, and feedback, sermon quality grows, increasing the staff's capacity to reach hearts and minds with the love and mercy of God.
What if You Don't Have a Staff?
Not all preachers have a staff available for collaboration or feedback. But that doesn't mean you can't build your own community.
- Ask local clergy and colleagues to join with you in a dedicated group, either in person or online.
- Look to friends or family. Though they don't live in the same city, one clergyperson I met has the unique luxury of a sister and father who are priests. They regularly share their sermons for help and appraisals between them.
- Even those who aren't clergy may be able to help. Do you know a writer? A teacher? Someone who regularly gives presentations in their business? Preachers share a skill set with many other professions. The content may vary, but the principles, tools, and skills readily translate.
Still not sure whom to ask? This is why Backstory Preaching exists.
In our camps, classes, and online groups, we strive to provide the community and feedback necessary to grow and become ever more effective.
If you'd like to see what a collaborative community can do for your preaching, join us for our Holy Week and/or Easter Sermon Bootcamps.
Each week-long camp meets one hour/day online to guide your sermon prep in real time. You'll work with a coach alongside a small group of participants to apply BsP's guiding principles to your work. By the end, you'll not only finish your sermon, you'll also learn a new process you can apply every week to preach soul-filled sermons that connect.
- Holy Week Camp: March 19-23, 3:00 p.m. EST
- Easter Camp: March 26-29 (ends Thursday so you're done with your sermon by Good Friday), 3:00 p.m. EST
P.S. We're excited to share that we're also in the developmental stages of a BsP Sermon Community (we're still working on the name). The community will be designed to keep you on track week after week, providing the structure, process, and support that makes weekly sermon prep a joy rather than a burden. Stay tuned for an official launch announcement around Easter.