Preacher: Leanne Ketcham
Sermon Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pp0r5pJvmA
Leanne Ketcham is a gifted preacher who wields theological expertise with impressive grace and practicality. She is currently finishing her PhD in Homiletics at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto, one of the best Homiletics programs in North America. She is on loan from the Wesleyan Church to a local congregation where she preaches regularly. The following are three preaching practices in which she excels and from which we can learn and grow.
Scripture does not belong to her.
When we preach Sunday after Sunday, it’s easy for the congregation to begin to put the preacher on a pedestal; perhaps in their eyes, we begin to hold authority over Scripture in a way that does not belong to us. We can combat this by the way that we present the message; the way that Scripture is presented matters almost as much as the information itself. Leanne’s illustrations aren’t all about her own life experiences (though she does speak some of her own experience). She’s not the one who read the Scripture passage–someone else read before she spoke. Scripture speaks to us as individuals by the grace power of the Holy Spirit, but it does not belong to us as individual preachers. It belongs to the the Living Word and is a gift to the Church. Simply by allowing someone else to read the Scripture and by using illustrations that weren’t her own life experience (the Venn diagram, for example), Leanne reminds us that Scripture (and our authority to speak) is from God.
Monotony is not a preacher’s friend. We wouldn’t advise any fellow preacher to speak at one tone or pitch for their entire sermon; our facial expressions should be no different. By allowing for a natural variance in our facial expressions, we engage listeners in a way that is natural and subtle. We’d do the same if we were telling a story to a friend; preaching doesn’t need a separate set of rules here. Leanne’s facial expressions lend themselves perfectly to her quick moments of humor. In the midst of talking about sin, Leanne offers a few quick lighthearted comments. The audience subconsciously thinks, ‘Perhaps I can laugh here?’ and her smile confirms it. We can share a laugh together and move forward.
This is a short sermon, but you certainly don’t leave feeling hungry. Each shared thought is packed with intellectual, emotional, and theological depth. As Leanne speaks, priorities are unveiled– a life immersed in theological study and engagement with the Holy Spirit. She’s done her homework. Not only has she intently studied the passage of Scripture, but she also brings serious theological weight to this party. And while some theologically powerful minds have trouble bringing things back down to the real world, Leanne does so with seemingly effortless poise. If theology is only studied and not lived, this is difficult to do. The depth here is not only found in sharp theological precision, but in her ability to bring it down to the ground and encourage us to live in this Kingdom now. “I don’t wake up each day wanting the things of God….though sanctification is a work of God, it is still a work that we cooperate with, that we open ourselves to… the question really becomes, then, do we even want this work? Do we want God to change our lives?” We are rarely asked if we want God to change us; most preachers assume this. Asking this question is both highly practical and theologically informed.
How can we emulate the best of Leanne’s preaching practices?
Do you preach every week? Does the Scripture reading responsibility fall to you every week? Do you typically prepare your messages in solitude? Do you often tell stories about yourself as the means to illustrate a point? This can lead others to the assumption that Scripture belongs to you, that you hold the authority. Simply beginning to change your answer to one of these three questions would be a great start. Hand the Scripture readings off (or even the whole sermon) to other people. Mentor a willing and gifted layperson in how to develop a sermon and ask them to preach next month. Begin to tell more stories about others, rather than about yourself, your family, or your friends. Develop the next series with a team rather than alone.
Some preachers have naturally expressive faces, while others appear stoic and unmoving.This is less about ‘doing it right’– everyone is different. However, it’s helpful to know how your face helps others interpret your sermons. You may think you’re conveying passion, but a friend might tell you that actually, you look angry. You may think you’re expressing yourself well, while a friend might tell you that your face doesn’t move much at all. Ask a friend to watch you preach; have them pay attention to how certain facial expressions lend themselves (or not) to moving the sermon forward. Then, take their notes and practice your next sermon in front of a mirror. This may seem like too small a detail to pursue, but it will only sharpen your delivery.
J.K. Rowling, the writer and creator of the Harry Potter universe, introduces us in the first book of the series to an object called the “Mirror of Erised.” Perhaps you’ll notice that Erised is ‘desire’ spelled backwards; this is the mirror’s purpose. The mirror reflects back not the image of the onlooker, but that which he/she desires most in the world. Harry stares longingly into the mirror, gazing upon the image of himself with his parents, who were taken from him at too young an age. Harry’s best friend Ron, one of seven children, looks into the mirror and sees himself distinguished and set apart in glory.
Over time, our preaching will reflect that which we desire most for our congregation. Leanne clearly desires that her people be theologically well-formed, not just so they can ‘know more stuff’ but so that they can know God better. Ask a handful of people in your congregation to answer one question each time you preach for a month. Here’s the question, “Based on this sermon, if I could ask God for one thing for my congregation, what do you think I would ask God for? What would I want them to possess/know above all else?”
You’ll likely get mixed responses, but perhaps some themes and categories will emerge. What is your preaching telling others that you want most for your congregation? And does that align with what you believe God has called you to do/say?