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Imagination and preaching | W. David Phillips

Imagination and preaching

I want to talk for a few posts about the storying process. In this post, let’s talk a moment about images and imagination.

Here’s a trick. Let’s suppose I say, “Not everything that appears to be valuable is actually valuable.” If you heard that, you might understand me in a general kind of way but it wouldn’t be very interesting. In fact, you might even turn me off.

But if I said, “All that glistens is not gold,” you literally “see” what I “mean”.

If you speak in works that evoke the senses, if your language is full of things that can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched, you create a world that your listener can enter. And they will listen to your story. And they will be moved.

Too often, our sermons are abstractions, generalizations, and judgments. When we can replace those with a sense image (gold, child, ocean, fish) and with verbs that represent actions we can visualize (glisten, leap, wag, fall) our preaching can come alive. This does not reject ideas, generalizations and judgments – they are actually present in the images we share.

Engaging the senses doesn’t just make our preaching vivid and engaging, it stirs us physiologically. Information taken in through the senses is processed in the limbic system – the portion of the brain which supports a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, long term memory, and smell. The limbic system manages responses like heart rate, blood/oxygen flow, muscle reaction, etc. Emotional responses create physiological reactions.

If you want to change behavior or motivate people to action, you have to engage their limbic system. To do that, our preaching has to activate the senses of the congregation. That happens through the use of verbal imagery.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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