Preaching Articles

C. S. Lewis once wrote to an American boy with advice on clear writing. It turns out to be excellent advice for pastors on preaching as well:

1.   Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2.   Always prefer the clean direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3.   Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4.   In writing, don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please, will you do my job for me.”

5.   Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

(From: Letters to Children, Dorsett & Mead, editors, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1985)

Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

Talk about it...

Chet Gladkowski

commented on Jul 7, 2012

Way to go Ray for bringing these great words to preach, write and communicate by.

Chet Gladkowski

commented on Jul 7, 2012

Way to go Ray for bringing these great words to preach, write and communicate by.

Pastor Sandy .

commented on Jul 7, 2012

Thanks, Ray. Great reminder. And thanks for introducing me to Sarah Bessey (through your Students of Jesus website).

Michael Morton

commented on Jul 7, 2012

Nice article. More people need more exposure to C. S. Lewis. I was not aware of him until late in life. I do appreciate all his writings.

Ross Cochrane

commented on Jul 7, 2012

Thanks Ray. Particularly liked number 4. I have never really thought about that before.

Jimmie Tempano

commented on Jul 7, 2012

Ray, thanks for relaying these writing tips. After several still born attempts at a Christian novel, I finally have one going that looks like I may complete. These tips will help when I review and edit. Blessings, Jimmie

John E Miller

commented on Jul 11, 2012

Very helpful and challenging!

Ndidi Kingsley

commented on Aug 15, 2020

Thanks for sharing these writing tips, particularly liked steps 3&4. Please, I need more tips. I have got some Christian books to write but I have not really done much. Ndidi Kingsley.

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