Meg Hess on Knowing Your Own Story and Preaching

Yesterday’s teleconference with Meg Hess on knowing your own family story provided some food for thought for me, particularly her comments on the impact of doing family of origin work on preaching. She talked about her goal being “less-reactive functioning” rather than being a “non-anxious presence,” which she suggested was not possible!

Here are comments that struck me:

“The more you know your own story, the more authentic you are going to be in the pulpit. I think there’s a correlation between those two things. That sort of internal sense of authority becomes more inner directed rather than responding or reacting to what you think you are supposed to be preaching about.

“I’m going to be thinking differently about how I preach about particular things — for example, if I’m preaching about a topic that might be controversial, I’m going to be asking myself questions: is there a triangle that’s formed around this particular issue? Are there people who are for it and people who are against it? Where am I in that triangle? That is going to shape how I talk about the issue and how I try to speak to both sides of the issue, and how I try to model what it means to be in dialogue about a particular issue.”

“I think a lot about my willfulness in preaching. What is the purpose of preaching? The traditional classical understanding of the purpose of preaching is to exhort, or to convince, or to persuade. Those are all very willful words as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s my job as a preacher to be very clearly self-defined, to state what I think and what I believe, as clearly as I am able to differentiate from the group in terms of what I’m putting out there, and then what they do with it is entirely up to them. I’m trying to tell my story as authentically as I can and figure out where my story intersects with The Story, and to invite people to reflect theologically on their own lives. So my definition of the success or failure of a sermon may have shifted in terms of preaching for ‘results’ – that’s not my job, that’s their job. My job is to be faithful and preach authentically, and their job is to take it and do whatever they are supposed to do with it.”

The recording of the teleconference is available. E-mail me at, and I’ll send you the link.

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