The Social Solitude of Preaching

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Preaching is an intensely solitary activity.

Preaching is a thoroughly social exercise.

Which is it?  Solitary or social?


My own process of preparation is wholly wrapped in solitude.  I study, I jot, I brainstorm, I fret, I pray, I get excited, I become depressed, I write–all on my own at my desk in the office or at my dining room table at my home.  The only input I get during that process is some occasional word-smithing advice I receive from trusted friends.

And while I work several weeks in advance, I still need to prepare a message almost every week.  And until the last word is written and the printed sermon is in the “hopper,” I’m not terribly social around the office. But when it’s done I’m full of high fives, stop-by-your-office-to-shoot-the-breeze, and the casual conversations that make working environments worthwhile.

So, sermonizing is inherently solitary.

But sermon delivery is by definition social.

There is a gathered community.  I see responses — or lack thereof — on people’s faces and in their posture.  Some register the “A-ha! I never knew that before!” look that lets me know I have engaged their mind. Others betray the “That hit close to home” look that lets me know I have engaged their heart.

The preaching event is a shared journey towards a common destination.  We in the room do it together and, if we do it well, people don’t feel I’m preaching at them but preaching with them.

So: solitary preparation leads to social delivery.

It’s why some of the best preachers you’ve ever heard are inescapably introverted in their personal lives.  And it’s also why a few of the “Hail fellow well met” types can’t preach their way out of a paper bag.

And it’s all part of the ambiguity that makes preaching an endlessly fascinating endeavor.


Talbot Davis is the pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, a modern congregation in Charlotte, North Carolina. He helps lead a talented group of pastors and support staff. He is the author of Head Scratchers, The Shadow Of A Doubt, The Storm Before The Calm, and Solve, all available from Abingdon Press. In another life, he played a lot of tennis. He married up and has two children.