Alternatives to Traditional Preaching Part 1: Can We Break the Mold?


In this three-part series, we are going to explore some of the varied and creative options you have for preaching. I hope that it will help each of us to think creatively and inspire you to approach your preaching from new angles.

Before we look at specific forms of preaching, we need to give some healthy boundaries to our exploration. This post will look closely at the question: Can we make changes to preaching and still call it preaching? To answer this I will offer a definition of preaching which should give us a context in which to explore new forms of preaching.

Right out of the gate there is something to be addressed: what do we mean by traditional preaching? Depending on who you ask you are bound to get a wide range of answers. For our purposes, I am suggesting that traditional preaching generally takes the form of one person standing in front of people presenting a sermon.

I should note that I am not trying to make an argument to abandon traditional preaching but instead want to add some diversity into the mix.

Rather than taking one form we should be inspired and encouraged to be creative in the telling and retelling of God’s mission, of the gospel.  

With that in mind, I want to offer a simple definition of preaching that can be used to guide our conversation and give us some structure as we explore alternatives. I tend to use Thomas Oden’s definition from his book Pastoral Theology. He defines preaching as:

“The public exposition of Christian truth, addressed to the here-and-now community of faith, and to all who would hear it.” [1]

In this definition, there are a few key ideas there that should guide our pursuit of creative preaching.

First, “preaching public exposition of Christian truth.” Exposition implies one of two things: a description of a theory or a large exhibition of art or trade goods. Both of these definitions offers something of clarity to our understanding of preaching. It requires that Christian truth is described/presented.

Second, “preaching is addressed to the here-and-now community of faith and to all who would hear it.” This second point is fundamental to our pursuit of creative forms of exposition. While the traditional form of preaching to a crowd may have been normal within the context of ancient Rome or in the lecture halls of the enlightenment in Europe, it is less common today. Even contemporary academic institutions encourage professors to teach in a varied manner that extends beyond lecturing for three hours. To address the here-and-now community, we must be mindful that our approach encourages the hearing of Christian truth and does not merely emulate the successful hearings of the past.

Both of these aspects suggest that preaching does not need to take one form but can, in an effort to explain Christian truth and encourage the hearing of it, be varied and creative. So, while I don’t want to encourage a flat out abandonment of traditional preaching forms, we can find some alternative to flavor our weekly, monthly, and annual preaching schedules.  

With these two guiding principles we can expand our thinking and begin to explore new forms of preaching. We will begin that discussion in the next post: Preaching in Dialogue.

[1] Oden, Pastoral Theology, 128.