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Performance in Preaching

Bringing the Sermon to Life

series: Engaging Worship

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This volume, which launches the Engaging Worship series from Fuller Theological Seminary’s Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts, offers a unique study of sermon delivery. While many books offer advice on how to prepare, write, and preach a sermon, this volume is distinctive in approaching the subject from the perspective of performance.

The authors, who teach at a variety of seminaries and divinity schools across the nation, examine how the sermon can bring God’s word to life for the congregation. In that sense, they consider the idea of performance from a wide range of theological, artistic, and musical viewpoints. These thoughtful essays will engage clergy and students with new ways of looking at the art of preaching.

Contents Introduction (Jana Childers and Clayton J. Schmit ) 1. The Truth and Truthfulness: Theological Reflections on Preaching and Performance (Marguerite Shuster) 2. Preaching, Performance, and the Life and Death of “Now” (Paul Scott Wilson) 3. At the Intersection of Actio Divina and Homo Performans: Embodiment and Evocation (Alyce M. McKenzie) 4. Performative Language and the Limits of Performance in Preaching (John M. Rottman) 5. Reversal of Fortune: The Performance of a Prophet (Mary Donovan Turner) 6. Performance and the New Testament in Preaching (Ronald J. Allen) 7. The Use of the Body in the Performance of Proclamation (Todd Farley) 8. Finding Voice in the Theological School (Richard F. Ward) 9. The Preacher’s Creative Process: Reaching the Well (Jana Childers) 10. What Comes Next? Performing Music and Proclaiming the Word (Clayton J. Schmit) 11. The Musicality of Black Preaching: Performing the Word (William C. Turner Jr.) 12. Performance Study in Service to the Spoken Word in Worship (Charles L. Bartow) Index


"Two of our finest teachers of preaching here collaborate on an invigorating book for preachers. Jesus doesn't mean for us to think about the gospel, even to understand the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is meant to be enacted, embodied, and performed. Childers and Schmit show us how we preachers can better enable our listeners to not only hear but also perform the gospel. One of the best books on the craft of preaching that we've had in a long time."--Will Willimon, bishop, North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, and visiting research professor, Duke Divinity School

"Every preacher wants the sermon to not only say something but also do something. This book will tell you how! Two consummate performers of the Word themselves, Jana Childers and Clayton Schmit have assembled the leading figures in the field of performance studies--ranging from theology to dramaturgy to musicology--and have produced a book like no other. It will bless preachers and those who listen to preaching for a long time to come."--Richard Lischer, James T. and Alice Mead Cleland Professor of Preaching, Duke Divinity School

"Jana Childers and Clayton Schmit have done students, preachers, and homileticians a great service with this book. For too long our preaching has been captive to the mind/body dualisms of modern thought. Performance in Preaching provides a rich variety of stimulating essays in conversation with the work of Charles Bartow, showing that both the 'what' and the 'how' of our sermons serve the Spirit's work of bringing the incarnate Word to speech."--Michael Pasquarello III, Granger E. and Anna A. Fisher Professor of Preaching, Asbury Theological Seminary

"Mention the words 'preaching' and 'performance' in the same sentence and some in the church get nervous. This helpful volume proves that such nervousness is unwarranted. Yes, preaching must be sincere, free of forced theatrics or any whiff of the pastor's merely 'putting on a show.' But these essays remind us that pastors must bring the Word to life by paying attention to their delivery of that Word as the Holy Spirit uses vocal chords, cadences, rhythms, and the preacher's entire body to help the Word of God become flesh and blood Sunday after Sunday. Preachers take note: God has called the entirety of your being into the service of proclaiming the Word, and this fine book will challenge you to remember that each and every Sunday!"--Scott Hoezee, director, The Center for Excellence in Preaching, Calvin Theological Seminary

The Authors

  1. Jana Childers

    Jana Childers

    Jana Childers (PhD, Graduate Theological Union) is the dean of the seminary and professor of homiletics and speech communication at San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is the author of Performing the Word: Preaching as Theatre.

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  2. Clayton J. Schmit

    Clayton J. Schmit

    Clayton J. Schmit (PhD, Graduate Theological Union) is the provost of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Lenoir-Rhyne University, in Columbia, South Carolina. He formerly served as academic director of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts...

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"This rich collection of essays . . . blends well the disciplines of rhetorical and biblical studies to advance one essential conversation in the field of homiletics. . . . Authors move swiftly from theoretical base to practical expression. . . . With this strong cast of authors, the essays move from recent theory to new and intelligent expressions. . . . This volume is the first in the Brehm Center's 'Engaging Worship' series, which promises an intelligent, practical conversation for the creative integration of worship, theology, and the arts. . . . Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers."--D. Fleer, Choice

"A helpful book. . . . We have heard much about lectio divina in recent years. For these writers, preaching is an expression of actio divina. It is an event of God's self-disclosure in the world. How a human preacher performs this disclosure of the divine activity deserves our careful thought. This book will help us to that end."--Kent Anderson,

"Throughout the book, authors navigate the tensions between art and technical competence and between God's activity and human participation. . . . The comprehensive footnoting guides readers to the interdisciplinary research necessary to explore the topics further. . . . For the most part, the chapters engage literature that is not readily available in the homiletical literature. Supplementing the book is an extensive index not often found in a collection of essays. Likewise, a bibliography categorized around various sub-disciplines offers a comprehensive delineation of the field of performance studies. . . . Performance in Preaching fills a lacuna in the literature that supplies concrete steps necessary for student growth. For teachers like me who have little training in the arts, it provides a resource that will complement my classes."--Tim Sensing, Homiletic

"[An] admirable volume. . . . The reader should expect subtle surprises. . . . In this book, as in a good sermon, there is more going on than first meets the eye. The writers of these essays, preachers all and teachers of preachers, have thought long and hard about performance, and that makes a difference. Performance changes everything. These essays make that point both repeatedly and persuasively. . . . In these essays, preachers are being given access to the resources discovered by actors and musicians through millennia of practical and theoretical reflections on the fact of performance. . . . Preachers will want to discover what this book knows about interpreting the Bible in front of a living congregation. People who teach preachers will want to soak their students in the reflections contained in this volume."--Richard W. Swanson, Word & World

"This distinctive volume approaches preaching from the perspective of performance. . . . These thoughtful essays engage clergy and students with new ways of looking at the art of preaching."--WIN Informer

"[This book] should be on the reading list of anyone exploring the performative aspects of homiletics. An excellent bibliography aids that quest."--Jeffrey Arthurs, Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society

"Preaching remains one of the most important tools for evangelism and nurture, and Performance in Preaching . . . is useful for helping preachers to focus on the technical aspects of delivery. . . . [It] is valuable for challenging preachers to reexamine their method and style and how to refine their skills, including to increase effectiveness for ministering to young adults."--David von Schlichten, Lutheran Partners (

"While whole libraries of books have been written on the preparation of sermons, the art of successfully delivering them is much less studied. In this collection of articles, leading scholars on the performance aspect of preaching give us a welcome insight into not only the things preachers can learn from other performers but also what it means to examine preaching in this light. . . . Practical insights are intertwined with thought-provoking theology. . . . This book fills an important gap by clarifying the place of sermon delivery and the performance aspect of preaching. . . . A useful addition to any preaching library."--Jonathan Downie, Pneuma Review