Feature Preacher: Rev. Leanne Friesen
The Feature Preacher series highlights one preacher to learn about their approach to preaching. For more about this series click here.
Today, I am excited to bring you an interview I did with Rev. Leanne Friesen.
Leanne has served as the Preaching and Lead Pastor of Mount Hamilton Baptist Church for 14 years. She also speaks at conferences and special events, and writes at leannefriesen.com. She is particularly passionate about helping and encouraging women preachers to find their preaching voice, and she loves to find creative ways of making sermons come to live in practical ways.
Here are some of her reflections:
How do you prepare your sermons?
There is a process to my sermons that begins well in advance of the sermon itself.
Usually in the summer I take time to pray about the year to come and map out a big picture of the arc of the year. I typically decide on several sermon series that I would like to dig into, and I try to make sure they cover a variety of scripture - usually a series from the OT, Gospels and epistles, as well as something topical.
A few weeks prior to a series, I map out the series itself. To do this, I typically go through the Scripture and make a list of every possible topic or passage I would consider for the series. I also read relevant books on the topic in general, and of course pray, talk to others for feedback and all those essential things! I will then create a breakdown of the series, and what passages I will preach from during the series, based on what is standing out to me, and where I sense God is leading me - I usually feel an obvious "pull" to certain passages.
On a typical week, I come in on Monday morning and dig into the passage I have set out for that week. I read the text itself prayerfully several times, making notes on ideas that stand out to me or are speaking to me. I will then read all the commentaries I have on the passage, do some internet reading, etc. Then I walk away. For the next few days, I let all the ideas ruminate. Typically, on Wednesday or Thursday I will sit down and write an outline of a sermon. I will then type out a loose manuscript - for me, writing out my ideas is a way of clearing up my thoughts as I am a visual person. I will read it through once or twice to play with it and make changes. I take Fridays off, and try to also take Saturdays, so I try to have most of my sermon ready by Thursday. On Saturdays, however, I will usually go through it at least once.
Can you tell me more about how you take a series from an idea to a fully formed series?
When I plan a series, I create a table with the columns "Passage," "Big Idea," "Other." The big idea is the point I see the passage making. The "other" are the ideas and creative things I may wish to include. I love this part of sermon planning - creatively mapping out a series is really fun for me.
I like to think of creative ways to engage in the series, such as visuals, songs that we may want to use, decor in the building, etc. For example, this past lent I did a series called "Woe to Us," which focused on the passion account from Matthew, but I focused specifically on areas of discipleship failure (the disciples falling asleep, Judas' betrayal, etc), inviting us to make space for lament. As I visioned this series, I decided to ask someone from our church to share a story of "woe" each week. I also asked our worship leaders to write a song of "woe" that we could use each week. I asked someone to build a cross, and planned that each week we would have a chance to write down our "woes" and leave them in a basket at the cross. All of this also worked towards Easter, when i then took those papers with the woes on them and shredded them and turned them into confetti, which we threw on Easter Sunday. We turned the "woe to us" song into "joy to us." As I planned the series, I always wanted our woes to turn to joy, as we celebrated the resurrection.
Where do you find inspiration for your sermons?
Honestly, EVERYWHERE. But definitely it mostly comes from the people in my congregation. I believe genuine relationships and pastoral care of your people will always help you best know what your church needs to hear. As I hear what is going on with people's lives,I find myself thinking of areas we need to address.
I take lots of ideas from other preachers. I hear of what friends are doing and say: "I love that! Can I use that?" I hear a sermon somewhere and take an idea there and turn it into a series that fits for us. I read books that inspire me and think "I'd love to do a sermon on that!"
I have a small notebook and when I get ideas for series, I write them down. Sometimes I use them, and sometimes I don't. Right now on my list of series ideas I have written down:
"Book of Daniel" (this was because I heard a sermon recently that talked about Daniel being brought into exile and I thought "I have never spoken on The whole book of Daniel - that could be cool....)
"Green Lent" (this was an idea of incorporating a lent series with a call to care for the earth)
"Four Ways of Responding to Jesus" (using the four main sects at the time of Jesus - pharisees, saducees, zealots, essenes....)
I may never actually use any of these, but I am always jotting down ideas.
Sometimes, it is less an "idea" for a series as much as practically looking at what is needed. For example "I haven't spoken on the OT prophets in years" - and I will know we need to dig into that.
It's really easy as a preacher from a non-liturgical tradition to stay in your "safe" and "favourite" areas of Scripture - for me, it would be the Gospels. I can preach stories of Jesus all day every day. But I need to discipline myself to go to the texts that are less comfortable for me.
When you started preaching, how did you develop your skills as a preacher?
My first experience as a preacher were when I worked as a youth pastor at a larger church. They recorded their sermons to stream to nursing homes. Every time I preached, which was just a few times a year, I would watch the video of myself after. Sometimes it was painful. I noticed how fast I talked and how I made hand gestures. I worked on things. Now, I still try to listen to myself once in a while to address these kinds of practical habits.
I also got lots of feedback from people; I would get a few people to read over my sermon and pastors to tell me what they thought. This helped a lot.
Who has had the greatest influence on your preaching? Why?
My preaching professor from Seminary was named Dr. Michael Knowles. He shaped my preaching in a way that influences me still. He had a number of sayings that still reverberate in my mind. One of his favourite questions was: "Where's the grace?" He said that Christianity was a message of grace, and every sermon needed to have grace in it. Every sermon I write at some point I still find myself thinking: "Where's the grace?" If there is no grace, no hope, in a sermon, I find myself working on it more.
How do you continue to grow as a preacher?
I think it's important to keep learning and keep challenging myself. I want to read different points of view on topics - this year I noticed that all the commentaries I had for one series were written by white men in the 1950s. I made an effort to find different voices on those topics, to hear views that may have been different than those I have always heard.
I still ask for feedback all the time. My associate pastor is a safe place for me to say: "how did that go?” So is my husband.
When I am preaching a sermon I am struggling with, or that may be for an especially large audience at a special event, I will share it with others. I will still ask: "What did you hear me say?" "Did that make sense?" "What would you take away?"
I think sometimes newer preachers hear a good preacher and think that preaching is just easier for them - but while it does come a little more easily now, most good sermons are well thought out, they have been practiced and they have often received feedback ahead of time.
What is your favourite book about preaching?
I don't think I have one! I actually find a lot of preaching books a little frustrating, because so many prescribe a very cookie cutter approach to preaching. Or they spend time shaming pastors about how long preparation should be, or how much research you should do, etc. etc. I believe we all have different approaches to preaching and books that don't acknowledge that I tend to avoid.
Although one specific preaching book doesn't stand out to me, I do believe good preaching and pastoring are deeply linked, and I love the work of Eugene Peterson on pastoring. His books have shaped my preaching over and over.