The Role of the Preacher

I’m still reading Thomas G. Long’s The Witness of Preaching. In it he makes an outstanding analogy:

The human mind works something like an auto-focus camera… Preachers are something like photographers’ assistants, setting up a series of interesting scenes and then urging the hearers to take pictures of them… As the preacher presents one idea after another, the hearers are busily snapping away with their mental cameras. “Here is the first idea,” the preacher says. CLICK. “Here is the second idea,” and, again, CLICK. Now, when the sermon is finished, what do the hearers have? If the sermon is poorly constructed, all they have is a cluttered box of random snapshots. If the sermon is well formed, though, they will have something like a filmstrip, a series of pictures that possess a lively sense of movement from one to the next and that work together to produce coherent understanding.

I love this analogy for several reasons. I like it because it admits that good sermon prep takes into account how people listen. It doesn’t just think about the talking, it also thinks about the listening. It gets inside the mind of the audience and thinks like they do. You’ve probably heard the phrase that it’s not what you say that counts, it’s what is heard. So good preparation always sees through the eye of another. And, as the analogy suggests, being a good photography assistant requires having an eye for an awesome picture.

The second reason I like the analogy is that preachers shouldn’t think they are the ones being photographed. Of course they’re not! So, preachers with this mindset can relax. They aren’t the one in the lights. There is something else occupying everybody’s full attention. In the preaching event it’s the Word of God! Preachers aren’t there to pose; they are there to showcase another! Preachers should buzz around the camera set to help frame the best shot with the most striking angle. The mind of the congregation is there ready to snap away on their cameras, so preachers must come ready to highlight some shots that will be memorialized forever.

And finally I like how Long made a point of the coherence of a sermon. The result of congregation’s mental pictures should read like a filmstrip… not a “box of random snapshots.” Serious attention should be paid to sticking to a sermon’s theme. Not every good idea fits together and sometimes it requires ruthless determination to say “no” to good, but unnecessary material. Keep it clear. Keep it unified. Resist randomness. Think filmstrip!



  1. Awesome, wouldn't it be cool if the preacher didn't even stand up front and center. but off to the side, while the congregation faced an image front and center. that'd be a change…

  2. Yeah! I like that. Maybe image after image (one might be too static). I do love an image rich presentation. But, whatever the case… the preacher needs to present the Word as if they are “off to the side,” for sure.

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