Writing Sermons, Writing Prayers: What’s the Difference?

We’ve all heard them: preachers that add a “w” to the phrase “God.” “Gaaaa-wd calls us to luuuu-uuve our neighbor,” turning one-syllable phrases into multisyllabic kinds. (Assume Reverend Lovejoy from “The Simpsons.”)

Maybe you’ve listened to a sermon by a preacher whose public “preacher voice” sounds affected, totally different, not like common dialog.

This sort of vocal affectation can appear odd and out of character to listeners. To me, it doesn’t appear to be the proper kind for a sermon, the place I anticipate to listen to the gospel within the preacher’s personal voice. When the preacher’s voice is “off,” I’m distracted to the purpose that it’s laborious to recollect the content material of the sermon.

Lately, I used to be requested to think about the distinction between writing for a sermon and writing for the liturgy. Affected speech isn’t the (solely) distinction!

My expertise, nonetheless, makes me suppose that our assumptions about public speech are totally different in preaching and in praying. Whereas it’s not in how we pronounce phrases, there may be an assumption that prayer language is deeper and richer than our conversational language.

The sermon is private, regardless that preachers converse the gospel on behalf of the gathered meeting. We assume that the preacher is talking the gospel via their very own expertise. In actual fact, we anticipate that. It’s usually narrative and entertaining in a method that connects with us. We’re extra viewers in sermon than in different components of the worship service, even in locations the place there’s a wealthy sense of name and response. We search for the preacher’s experience in offering commentary on a textual content: exegetical, theological, social, political. Clearly, the directionality of the speech is from one to many.

After we do liturgy collectively, there’s a totally different set of assumptions. The language is shared. Prayer is one thing that we do collectively. The chief is known to be talking for and with us, fairly than to us. The directionality is totally different; extra us to GodGod to us. There’s additionally a distinction in fashion of speech. Liturgical language has cadence. Not essentially poetic — though generally it’s — liturgy carries that means and emotion like music. Phrases are sometimes layered, multivalent, saturated in historical past and shared expertise. Liturgy lets symbolic phrases stand on their very own, fairly than present commentary on their that means.

If preaching is conversational, liturgy is metaphorical, though it’s definitely potential for preaching to be metaphorical and liturgy to be conversational. Liturgy is steeped in biblical metaphor, but ought to, on the similar time, be inventive and new. When writing prayer language, there needs to be consideration to context. How is a phrase or phrase understood in this place? What different ideas affiliate with this concept or metaphor? The place will it take our minds if we hear it? Prayer language, if used over time, turns into formative in a method that sermons don’t. As a result of we repeat time and again phrases or phrases, they arrive to information our pondering or feeling. Sermons, in fact, are seldom heard or learn once more (no less than for us common preachers!).1

One remaining thought that applies each to writing sermons and writing liturgy. The psychological constructs we use have an effect.

For instance, our assumptions about how the world or the cosmos are structured will form our language selections. More and more, we’re being invited to suppose in non-binary methods. The Western mannequin of both/or is proving inadequate in correctly describing genuine human expertise. We’re dwelling in inventive time as we’re invited to consider our speech as non-sexist, non-hierarchical, non-phobic, non-gendered.

In my congregation, we’ve been challenged by some members to consider new methods to say “brothers and sisters” in order that we are able to embrace those that could also be in a special place on the gender spectrum. We’ve been working to consider relational, communal phrases that aren’t so gendered. We’ve give you “beloved,” “associates,” “siblings,” “household.” But even “brothers and sisters,” as soon as the broader, extra inclusive phrase, is now being examined. That is the fantastic problem of human language.

How, certainly, will we converse of the unspeakable in restricted human language? In the long run, I suppose it’s the work of incarnation.

How do you contemplate the distinction in writing sermons or writing liturgy? Are there issues that we must always take into consideration? Simply promise me that you simply’ll eradicate all “w’s” from God.


In These Or Comparable Phrases: Crafting Language for Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 14-19.

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