Crafting a sermon together while distancing

The following article offers an alternative method of preaching the Gospel during a time of social distancing, especially among smaller groups or congregations, or in lower-technology settings.

There is good reason in some circumstances for a pastor to preach a sermon or offer a meditation as a solo voice online. We have seen many examples of this practice emerging during our time of social distancing. Pastors may accomplish this by recording a sermon with a video device and posting it later, livestreaming on Facebook or another social media format, or a combination of these things. But for some—especially less technologically-savvy congregations—listening to someone preach a sermon may not be the best way for people to engage the Word of God in this era.

So, instead of our more typical practice of one person delivering the sermon, we offer here a method for engaging the Word in a more collaborative format.

Over the years we have found it consistently moving to discover how God speaks to God’s people through the lectionary. Even if this is not your church’s regular practice, during this time of crisis consider letting the ancient and ecumenical patterns of worship lead you through this time.

First, gather online or on the telephone. This practice would be most effective in smaller groups, perhaps ten or fewer. If you are worshipping together as a whole community, you might consider breaking out into smaller groups for the proclamation of the Word.

Designate a pastor or a lay person to lead. The leader should choose a text among the lectionary texts for the day and the season of the Christian year. Leaders should pick a text that connects to their community context and which addresses the current situation of our world, or personal concerns and needs as people coping with social distancing.

The leader can then create a list of two or three questions that arise out of the text. He or she may also do some basic study of the text in advance, but try not to let study guide the conversation. This is about engaging the text together and not pushing for any particular conclusion. Let the text speak to you and through you in your context.

Don’t allow anyone to dominate the conversation, if possible. Keep it real and current. This is not a time to share everything scholarly that you know about the passage, or even to interpret it for others. Let others help you to interpret as you try to hear God’s Word together.


Sunday morning, March 29, 2020, was the 5th Sunday in Lent. The lectionary readings for the day were found here:

I was leading. I chose to center our Morning Praise and Prayer around the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel 37:1-14, the “Valley of the Dry Bones.” This text spoke to me because the imagery connected with my thoughts and feelings about people dying in large numbers in New York City and other places around the world. I pictured bodies in Italy being stored on ice-skating rinks and other make-shift emergency morgues as a sort of “Valley of Dry Bones.”

I read the scripture lesson aloud. I shared my initial thoughts and invited others in the group to speak their own truths. Each of us shared images and personal responses that came to mind as we responded to the lesson.

Every sermon needs to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ for God’s people, so it was important to spend at least as much time finding hope in the passage as it was to name the fear and pain of our current reality. Ezekiel’s prophecy envisions a day that is coming when people will rise again to life out of the death and destruction of the present moment. The prophet is himself empowered to speak into this dead valley. He has agency in this dire situation, and God not only guides his words, but responds by breathing life into the dry bones. We considered our own agency, our own ability to speak hope into the world, and our trust that God was with us in the midst of it all. We spent a good deal of time talking about where we were seeing signs of new life being breathed into the world all around us: in our gardens and nature as Spring bursts forth; in reports of hope and healing in the midst of so much heartache; in the precious and sacred nature of life itself; in the Easter promise of resurrection on the other side of death.

We spent about fifteen minutes sharing our thoughts and responses to this passage. My job as leader was to keep the reflection moving forward as naturally as possible, inviting others to speak and not pushing my own agenda or conclusions on others. In this way, we created a sermon together as we encountered God’s saving Word in our virtual community.

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