Take Your Sermon for a Walk

Bruce EpperlyThere are lots of ways that preachers stay fresh and vital in ministry and preaching. A number of preachers I know take their sermons out for a walk. They have discovered that movement revives body, mind, and spirit; opens them to new ideas; and helps them to get unstuck when homiletical creativity eludes them.

Here are some testimonies from pastors I've interviewed for my books on the spirituality of ministry. An Ohio pastor notes, "Every Monday morning, I take half an hour to prepare for next Sunday's sermon. After I read the scriptures and let them soak in, I put on my walking shoes and head out for a mile's walk in my neighborhood. I don't have anything particular in mind. I simply let the thoughts come up as I gaze at the trees, the clouds scudding by, children playing, or people driving to work. By the time I get home, I've got a handful of ideas that I jot down as seed thoughts for the sermon."

A Pennsylvania pastor affirms, "I'm a fast walker. As I zoom around the track near the parsonage, I just let thoughts come. It seems like I always have a sermon by the time I get home." A California pastor states that she does most of her sermon preparation and writing at church: "I get up from my chair and walk around the sanctuary or parking lot. I feel more alert, get new ideas, and sometimes see something or hear a conversation that speaks to my theme."

A Washington, D.C. area preacher joins walking and sitting: "First thing Monday morning, I read the texts and jot down some first impressions. Then, I slip on my tennis shoes and walk twenty minutes to the neighborhood Starbucks, where I enjoy my morning coffee and let the ideas come. By the time I've finished, I have all I need to get started on my sermon."

Taking your sermon out for a walk gets the blood, ideas, and images flowing. Often when we're sitting, our ideas stand still, too. That's one of the reasons I like to do spiritual direction or deal with challenging issues on the move—for example, walking through Franklin and Marshall's campus across from the seminary where I teach or sauntering to the local coffee house. Frankly, I think most church board meetings would be more imaginative if church boards made their decisions on the move, seeing their work as a matter of dynamically following in the path of Jesus and his disciples.

There is no one way to walk your sermon—just like walking your dog, yet less messy! (Sometimes!)

My approach is similar to the pastor for Ohio: early in the week, I read the scriptures meditatively, simply listening for possibilities, with no concern for analysis or getting it right . . . just getting the glimmer of a vision. Next, I take off on a walkabout through my neighborhood, with no particular agenda or outcome in mind. I let the thoughts come as they may, not even trying to remember them, but knowing that the best ones will make it home with me. Some pastors actually bring a little notebook with them and jot things down as they walk along; a few others bring recording devices or use their cell phones to record a few thoughts. These are great ideas, by the way; I've thought of putting them into practice, but perhaps in a "purpose driven" world, I want this part of the process to be "purposeless." I want divine inspiration and unconscious purpose, rather than my plans to guide me, at least for the walk!

During the course of the week, I may take other "preachers' walks." I find the preacher's walk most helpful when I'm at a dead end and nothing interesting or insightful appears to be coming. Preaching should be interesting and insightful both to the preacher and the congregation, because God is interesting and inspirational. In fact, as God told Moses, I am a God on the move, "I will be what I will be" and "I am becoming." God is a moving God, an adventurous God, a living God, and we should be moving, adventurous, and living as well.

So I invite you to take your sermon out for a walk. Let the wind blow on your cheeks. Enjoy the feeling of robust movement. Bathe your eyes in beauty as you embrace a beautiful and lively, forward-moving God.*

*Note: This phrase comes from Patricia Adams Farmers' text Embracing a Beautiful God (Chalice, 2002). Farmer is also the author of The Metaphor Maker, a great fictional text in lived theological reflection.

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