Crafting Creative Sermons
Creative sermons are the desire of nearly every preacher, but they are the possession of few. Creativity might as well be a pot of gold at the end of the sermonic rainbow. Preachers just don't know how to get there. And try as they might, the more many preachers chase the rainbow of other's creativity, the more they end up empty handed of their own. Too many preachers use other's sermon illustrations and wonder why those sermon illustrations fall flat when they preach them. In this article I won't just give you creative plug and play ideas for your next sermon. Instead, I want to give you the tools that will actually help you craft your own creative sermons for years to come. If you use these ideas on a regular basis, you will become a creative preacher.
Creativity in preaching is different than in other realms of life. Preaching is not trying to produce an innovative product, or craft a new-under-the-sun solution. Creative sermons do bring something new and valuable into the world however. The newness may be a new perspective, a new form, a new insight, a new expression, a new inspiration, a new solution, or any other sort of newness that emerges from the Good News that God is lovingly acting to save the world. Creativity does not mean coming up with your own snazzy "talks" centered around your own made-up theme. It is the ability to bring out both "old and new treasures" from the scriptures and to use or create your own new wineskins to hold them in. So creativity in preaching is bringing something that is both good and new into your preaching whether it is a sermon illustration, sermon point, sermon visual, or sermon insight.
How Creativity Works
Creativity in preaching happens in one of two directions: vertical thinking or lateral thinking. Vertical thinking is the creativity that comes with depth of focus and care. Lateral thinking is a term coined by Edward De Bono in the 1960s. In De Bono's work vertical thinking concentrates and excludes what is irrelevant (think stereotypical exegesis). Lateral thinking welcomes intrusions, follows unlikely paths, and explores the least likely options.
No sermon should lack depth of vertical thinking. It is Haddon Robinson's focused Big Idea or Tom Long's carefully crafted Focus Statement. Depth of insight into the scriptural text and the human condition are what make preaching great. It cannot be truly creative preaching if it misses this element.
Lateral thinking in preaching is where most preachers discover effective sermon illustrations, creative forms for preaching, or other unexpected insights that come from the outside. In reality, vertical thinking works best when it is jarred by lateral thinking. Lateral thinking works best when it is pressed into the service of vertical thinking. Exegesis is best when it gets jarred out of typical paths. Creative communication is only helpful when it serves the aim of the scriptures.
Tools for Creativity
These tools are very practical steps you can take to force creativity to come out in the middle of a sermon process. Try them, they really do work:
1. Forced juxtaposition - Juxtaposition is when to things are next to each other. Creativity often happens when two things which don't ordinarily touch, somehow rub against each other. That's why sermon illustrations and ideas come on walks, in showers, or while watching a movie. But you can force it. Pull out your focus statement, or one of your points/moves in your sermon. Then pick a few random objects you can see around you. I recently tried this with my students and the sermon focus was "God has poured his love on all humanity" from the scene where Christ is crucified between criminals. The first object was a dry erase marker. The next step is to ask how they can relate. Some ideas were: just like a dry erase marker leaves a trace, you can try to wipe out God's love from the world, but the traces remain. God's love is able to paint inside the lines (mother/disciple) or outside the lines (thief). Catching God's love is like sniffing a marker (sniff--ah) intoxicating! That's how it works. Of course you have to return to vertical thinking once you have a few ideas and make sure your sermon illustrations match the dignity of the text.
2. Wishful Thinking - Here you simply ask the questions "What if?" or "Can you imagine?" regarding some portion of your sermon. What if everyone really believed this? What would world be like? What if that Biblical character hadn't failed? What might have happened? Can you imagine a world where this part of God's character became a part of everyone's character?
3. Reversal - Instead of God loves the world. God hates the world. What would have happened if that were the case? Take some thought that you have had and completely reverse it to see how it might be true, what would change if it were true, and so forth. A great sermon illustration might be to imagine what might be different if God really did hate the world.
4. Escape - remove all laws, doctrines, and boundaries. Then reconsider your sermon or passage. It helps in every sermon to at one point or another become a heretic for a moment. Look at the faith from a despised perspective and then make yourself work out of it. Most heresies are just one tiny (and all important) step away from the truth anyway.
5. Ridiculous association- Here you think of a problem you are trying to solve and then find the most ridiculous association possible. For example, the problem is apathy in the church. Ridiculous association: bananas. How can you possibly solve apathy with bananas? Bananas come in bunches... dead end. Bananas are yellow... dead end. Bananas have potassium Hmmm... we know we don't have enough potassium when pinched skin stays bunched up. Ah! Here we go. When many Christians get pinched, squeezed, they freeze. They decide that was too much pressure and stop moving, they become apathetic. Bananas really do relate. We need spiritual bananas for our spiritual apathy. (Doesn't solve the problem, but gives you a visual image should you use it). Another ridiculous association: prosperity and concrete. Concrete is hard. But it starts wet and you can put it in a mold. Hmmm... There's the connection. Prosperity is like concrete. The form you put it in while it is new and fresh will likely be the form it remains it unless you go through a violent change. So set the form of your finances in generosity and servanthood early, before it hardens into greed and the pursuit of empty pleasure.
6. Challenge it - This tool simply takes the eyes of a child to any point you are trying to make and asks "Why?" This presses you to continually ask the why question giving you ever deeper reflections on your passage and keeping you from giving shallow platitudes. It's better to give than receive. Why? Because there is deep satisfaction in doing good for others. Why? Because we were made to give love to others and in giving we also receive. Why? God designed us that way. Why? Because we are built in the image of God and God is a giving God who always gives more than receives. Why? It can keep going. This tool actually gives you more to say, not just more creative ways to say it.
7. Disprove it - Related to challenging it you can also take your point and disprove it. Play devil's advocate and argue your point into the ground. Defeat yourself. Make yourself feel that your point is all but lost. Then come back and find evidence to defeat the devil's advocate you just played. This can help you form a powerfully persuasive, not just creative sermon.
* See more tips on creativity in preaching below. For more related articles and resources look elsewhere on this page for useful links.
More Tips for Creative Preaching
- Use the results of your creative tools above to find visuals that can make your auditory sermon more appealing to the eye.
- Look for multi-sensory ideas in your creativity time. Is there a way people can smell it, taste it, or feel it?
- Use video clips only sparingly. Short video clips that clearly illustrate the point or make an emotional appeal are helpful. They must not overshadow the text or the sermon however.
- Consider breaking up your sermon with: interviews, testimonies (here a video can be powerful!), discussion moments, quiet times for reflection, an appropriate worship song in the middle, or of course the standard sermon fare - a story.
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