• John Woods

Putting the genie back into the bottle!



Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash


Will we be any different as a result of our experience of the lockdown?


For most of us a crisis is something that happens to other people somewhere else.

Maybe this Covid-19 crisis should make us more sensitive:

“Perhaps the next time we hear of some faceless people group out in the world suffering from an invisible, enigmatic predator, those people won’t be so faceless after all, because we’ll see ourselves in them.” (Andy Olson Christianity Today May/June 2020 Who is my Covid-19 Neighbour?)

It was interesting to see the first public appearance of Boris Johnson since he recovered from Covid-19. Boris Johnson said: “The NHS saved my life…”


Was I the only one to detect a more sensitive yet urgent tone in his voice? Let’s hope that this will continue. Will Walden, Boris Johnson’s former Communications Chief, commented on the speech:

“Every single word was his own. It’s possibly the most deeply-felt and personal address I’ve ever heard from him. He looked pretty close to tears occasionally. He looked very emotional and I think it takes a lot of courage to be as honest as he was, admitting that he’d had that brush with death … It was personal, but it was also Prime Ministerial.”

A friend of mine asked me whether I thought that adjustments to preaching during lockdown continue to have a long-term impact on our preaching?


Possibly some things will never be the same again when this lockdown finally ends.


Perhaps preachers will take some of the skills they have learned during this time to enrich their preaching in the future?


I wonder what that might look like.


1. Learning to see the sermon as a complex piece of communication that needs to keep in view the God who speaks, the preacher who preaches, and the hearer who listens.


Being forced to think carefully about the dynamics of the preaching event is always a good thing.


Perhaps congregations will be less tolerant of elements of the sermon and service that do not appear to be intentional and well thought through.


2. Giving attention to the purpose, structure and movement of the sermonis also a helpful skill that is being honed by those who are preaching week by week online.


On purpose, there is always value in asking the questions:

What do I want this sermon to say?

What do I want this sermon to do?


It’s difficult to listen when we are unsure of why we’re listening.


Preachers in this season of lockdown have had to reflect on the listener’s experience of the sermon: “How was it for you?”


Yet having a purpose for the sermon needs to be communicated through a structure that has clear signals and a sense of movement.


Perhaps congregations will be less tolerant of unfocused sermons that meander around and never seem to arrive at any destination.


3. Preachers have been learning to preach with greater empathy. Preaching is never only a matter of the preacher telling us what he thinks we should think; it’s also about someone who feels what we feel.


Coming back to Boris Johnson’s speech: Will Walden said: “It was personal, but it was also Prime Ministerial.”


Perhaps congregations will be less satisfied with having a preacher who does not display the rounded qualities of being a fully paid up member of the human race.


I love the putdown delivered by Woody to Buzz Lightyear in the animated film, Toy Story: “That’s not flying, that’s falling with style!”


What would Woody say if he heard us preach?

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