Book Review – Graceful Speech: An Invitation to Preaching by Lucy Lind Hogan

Louisvile, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.
Reviewed by Jessica Walter, jwalter@franconiaconference.org

Drawing from over 20 years of pastoral and teaching experience, Lucy Lind Hogan invites the readers of Graceful Speech: An Invitation to Preaching to go deep into what it means to be a preacher. She asks that as the “nuts and bolts” of preaching are being gathered, a theology in preaching be developed as well.

Her holistic approach to preaching addresses what it means to be a preacher, all it requires to craft a sermon, and how to deliver the message. She graciously reminds her readers that there are people who are listening. She declares, “We have all been invited to join this great cloud of witnesses cheering on the people of God as they run the race set before them.”

Other highlights of the book include questions at the end of each chapter that prompt critical thinking, important and necessary suggestions for developing character for preaching, and a detailed walk through developing a sermon that offers a variety of resources and practical techniques. Understanding that this can be a lofty topic, Hogan brings readers back down to earth by offering her own experiences in dealing with the reality of juggling multiple life and job requirements and by using cultural references; including examples of themes from children’s stories to the dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

As a seminary student I found this book both encouraging and challenging. Hogan’s personal writing style and deep look at what it takes to develop a sermon and be a virtuous preacher allowed me to truly understand the preacher as a whole person. In this vocation we are asked to be vessels of God’s word and that requires us to take on the somewhat indefinite task of being righteous. Hogan offers wonderfully realistic guidelines on what it means to be an honorable person and a preacher of integrity.

Hogan reminds us that we, as preachers, are one in a host of preachers who have come before us. Therefore studying their sermons is an enriching way to learn from past triumphs and failures. I appreciated her wise look at a preacher’s listeners. She encourages preachers to understand their listeners through several means, including watching the response from the pulpit and taking in how they view you as a preacher. Hogan recommends understanding what is going on in the lives of your congregants on personal, community, national, broader Church, and world levels.

In the capstone to Hogan’s insightful “invitation to preaching” she notes several issues that are “challenging, pressing, and engaging in contemporary preaching.” She asks preachers to not only address the present issues in preaching but also to look ahead to what the future may hold for this calling and vocation.

Jessica Walter is an associate for communication and leadership cultivation at Franconia Mennonite Conference. She attends West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship and is a member of Slate Hill Mennonite Church in Mechanicsburg, PA. Jessica is a student at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA.