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Childers, J., Performing the Word: Preaching as Theatre

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

By: Benjamin Knoll


  • Preaching is about PASSION (or life, authenticity, naturalness, conviction, sincerity, etc.)

  • Preaching is an EVENT - a corporate event that happens in a group and a transforming event that interprets sacred texts. Also a theological event, a subset of theology.

  • Preaching a CREATIVE act--bringing into existence something that didn't exist before.

  • Theology and preaching reinforce and inform one another.


  • Early Church: 1) Jewish Christian preaching to show how Jesus fits with Jewish scripture and 2) toward Gentiles, focused on personal repentance and life change.

  • Augustine: refocused preaching to be about interpretation of scripture.

  • Alan of Lille: refocused to be about formation, should focus on ethics and behavior but also theology and holy things.

  • John Calvin: preaching is a sacrament that can convey word of God as much as scripture

  • Martin Luther: preaching is an encounter of God. The preacher/listener should both be "absorbed" into Christ.

  • Jonathan Edwards: conversion is the goal--persuade the heart and the head will follow.

  • 19th century: 1) revivalist persuasion/emotive, and 2) intellectual engagement and correlation with secular ethics


  • PERSUASION--conversion, repentance, "moving," salvation, revival

  • MAINTENANCE--teaching, formation, ethics, interpretation of Scripture

  • ENCOUNTER--revelation, mediation, communion, absorption

  • The performance of sermons is just as important as the content of them.


  • Preaching is an ART - it's theater. It uses imagery to modify consciousness.

  • It is ACTION which means that it's about "driving," moving toward something.

  • NARRATIVE PREACHING is a form where there's a plot line: introduce conflict, move toward resolution

  • It is DISTANCE - you need to have some distance from audience so that they can see you (logistics) and have some space to create their interpretation of your performance.

  • It is PERFORMANCE - of course it is, and it's disingenuous to suggest otherwise. And that's okay! It's not a bad thing to perform.

  • It is CREATIVE - think about "incarnation" where two things come together in one. Here, a preacher joins the text and a new thing is born.


  • Your VOICE is the key instrument used in preaching (more about voice than body because often you're behind a pulpit and/or in big fluffy clothes)

  • The basics of voice training/performance for preaching:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing (pg 62)

  • Different types of vocal resonance (pg 63)

  • Articulation (pg 68)

  • Preparing your body with exercises and warm-ups (pg 73)


  • There's no such thing as "neutral" reading of a scriptural text. Some people try for that thinking that it allows the listener to be key interpreter, BUT it's boring and puts them to sleep AND it's a fiction that we can be neutral with our tone of voice anyways and that can undercut the message of the text as well.


  • Don't put a pause at the beginning of a quotation mark (puts the emphasis OFF the quotation)

  • Don't worry about commas

  • Don't put a pause before "O" (like "deliver me O Lord [pause] from evildoers" instead of "deliver me [pause] O Lord from evildoers"

  • Emphasize the word in the phrase that carries forth the meaning

  • Communication styles

  • Leland Powers "THE TRINITY OF EXPRESSION" - any text can be one of three rhetorical styles: rational, emotional, or kinesthetic. You should know which one is called for with each passage that is read/performed.

  • RATIONAL--pitch is elegant, etc.; focus is on the ideas and words

  • EMOTIONAL--emphasis with vowels (i.e. "what a sweeeeet baaaaby"); focus is on images, not words

  • KINESTHETIC--action and story oriented--see the story in your mind

  • You should INTERNALIZE the text for yourself so that you can perform it; don't just read it!

  • The UNSELFISH PERFORMER: commit to rehearsing and have an honest desire to connect with a text and internalize it. Handle the text with respect and reverence. Try to dialogue, discovery, and synthesize the text. Enter into partnership with it. It's you AND the text, not just you (and not just the text).


  • Learn to CONCENTRATE--it's important to learn how to be mindful and not distracted. (suggestions on pg 103+)

  • Learn to OBSERVE--learn to be more observant in narratives to notice things in the text

  • Learn to IMAGINE--put yourself into the context of the text and try to imagine what it was like.

  • Commit to being energetic, to respect the body, to be welcoming, hospital toward audience, etc.


  • Worship is about God's people performing the story of God for each other.

  • Theater is to entertain, worship is to "effect" --both use performance to do that.

  • Think of the worship service as a PLOT - it's a STORY being told, with the climax being the Eucharistic Act.

  • Conflict: between who God is and who we are; between our focus on God and focus on ourselves; between life and death; the already and the "not yet," etc. Think about momentum and anticipation.

  • Climax: death and union with God (usually Eucharist)

  • Resolution: "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord"

  • Movement, props, etc. all have their place as well.

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