Differentiated Sermons

In a comment exchange about Sunday’s service, my sister and I discussed:

Ru: wow, what a great and powerful exercise. i love the ways that you make going to church an active thing. it’s not just a plunk-me-down-in-a-seat-and-listen thing, it becomes an exercise that you have to choose to take part in. fantastic!

And I said: Well you know me; I have this crazy notion that when Jesus said “Come, follow me,” he didn’t mean “Come, sit on your butt.” Now we need to listen and contemplate, yes, and we need to respond in acts of service to others. But between the two, we need to respond to God with a spirituality that is an active choice not a passive assimilation of whatever others around us believe/think/experience.

I was thinking about Mary (in the story where Jesus visits with Martha and Mary, and the two sisters have different ways of responding to Jesus’ presence; Martha bustles about the house, serving others, while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and takes it all in), and thinking that we might sometimes go taking Mary’s sitting and learning a bit too literally. Mary must have been one of those learners who can just absorb, listen and remember. But we’re not all like that, and some of us don’t really feel that we’ve gotten anything until we take an action. I try (and sadly, rarely succeed) to have some sort of response each week where people can do something active. Sometimes it’s the hymn right after the sermon, chosen to reflect what I hope was the central word that morning. But sometimes I have the opportunity and inspiration to add something extra. This is when I think a lot more people can absorb what is happening, because there are multiple formats. My husband the special educator would say that I’m differentiating my preaching. Making it open for multiple intelligences. I think I’m just having fun trying to find ways to pull people in a bit more.

What are some creative ideas you’ve used lately? Bonus points for anyone willing to share a chreative Christmas Eve idea!

5 thoughts on “Differentiated Sermons”

  1. Hehe. the ‘chreative’ was totally a typo, but now I’m leaving it because it’s all funny and christologically spelled and ironic. I’m going to spell everything that should be cr- with chr- instead, like… um… chrazy and er, chrinkle.

  2. Singing. It’s been the secret weapon of Methodists for 250 years.

    We sing our faith and lessons back to the preacher and to the world and to God. It’s the physical activity that matters. It did to me…it’s where I learned what little religion I have, from Sunday School, which began with “Tell me a story of of Jesus / that I like to hear”, to choir and grownup hymns. Even when I quit going to Methodist services, I would sit through Quaker meeting, thinking, hey, when do these teeth-gritting silent pacifists get up and SING?

    In fancy terms, almost anything by John Dewey reminds us that we learn by doing. Singing is doing.

    Communion the same.

    Can you find hymn equivalents? Ones that carry on after service is over? I can suggest things, but you know your own place and people.


    John W.

  3. @John,

    I agree that singing is a big one! Still, I find that sometimes even the songs become so familiar that they are more recitation than doing. A good song will carry the theme of the message and stay in people’s minds for many hours (maybe days), but I think even that is rare to find consistently. That’s why I also look for actions: getting up and moving around, taking an object with you or placing something on the altar or sending yourself a note for later.


  4. I know I’m late to this discussion but somehow I found it and here we go! Singing is good. Visual aids are good. I’ve seen some great ones. I use the video projector with pictures and even video clips at times. I know that is not for some but in this visual world, I think it helps my folks get the message when I preach.

    1. Hi Mark,

      Glad you found the conversation at any time! I like using the projector for a visual metaphor and/or video clips. I don’t like putting up sermon bullets or anything, because I think that feels more like a meeting and less like a worship service. And I agree with you; it’s not for everyone perhaps, but on the whole I think it helps convey the message, and anything that gets a little more of God’s love communicated to the world is a good thing in my mind!


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