Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

Preaching Naked

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Before I preach I want to check to see if my soul is hanging out, like you might check to see if your slip is showing or your fly is down.

Preaching is hard. It’s not hard because you hunt for the right story or the perfect quote. It’s not hard because it’s a challenge to give the historical context without curing the listener of her insomnia. Preaching is hard because it is so vulnerable.

There’s the vulnerability of wrestling with the text. It can be a real match between what I wish the Bible said, what it really says, who I think I am, who I really am, who I want to be, and what the Spirit seems to be saying. I dare to let my soul be shaped by that encounter.

Every week I ask of what I am preparing to preach: Do I really believe this? Do I at least want to believe this? Have I experienced this good news or at least hope to experience this good news? Do I stake my life on it?

And then there’s the vulnerability before the congregation. In my 6th year at my church I think folks know me now. When I preach about patience they know the times when I’ve interrupted someone while I was trying to make a point. When I urge boldness they know when I’ve lost my nerve. When I preach about keeping promises they know when I haven’t followed through. They’ve brought me casseroles after a medical procedure and cookies for encouragement. Many of my congregants were there the Sunday I announced, through tears, my divorce. A few heard me swear like a sailor after slipping on the tile in our Narthex (on Christmas Eve). They know me.

All I really have to offer my congregation is the result of my wrestling match with God. I try to preach from scars and not from wounds.[1] My most personal sermons are often the ones where I don’t tell a single personal story.

My best sermons aren’t always the ones with the clever jokes or video-clips or tear- jerking stories. They are the ones where I offer my very self.





[1] Nadia Bolz-Weber uses “scars and wounds” to talk about how she chooses what to reveal about her life. She shares stories about things that are her past, and doesn’t share wounds that still hurt in her present.


  1. Walt Catlow

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts and therefore little pieces of your being with us. I really enjoy your insights and style. Please keep them coming. You have inspired me to go back to work on a piece that has been dormant too long.


    • admin

      Thanks so much. Hope you and Janet are well.

  2. Erin P. Gosser

    Your vulnerability makes you easy to relate to. Aaron and I love your sermons; we get so much out of them!

    • admin

      Thanks, Erin.

  3. Barbara Cintado

    “Before I preach I want to check to see if my soul is hanging out, like you might check to see if your slip is showing or your fly is down.” — So brilliantly worded and evocative. You are SO good at this.

  4. Cynthia Hallas

    Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share your vulnerability! What you say rings so authentic. And Nadia’s words are important to remember, as well.

  5. Jay Hakim

    I hadn’t heard about the Christmas Even incident!

    I was a little surprised to read that your most personal ones are when you don’t tell a story. I like the stories too!

    • admin

      Sometimes the stories I would tell are too fresh or distracting (take folks into a part of my life I’m not prepared to share publicly). That’s not to say that every sermon without a personal story is somehow a current struggle.

  6. Phaedra Wilkinson

    This is wonderful and so honest. When I was a kid a preacher or a pastor was someone one on a very high pedestal. Always Male. And I’m sure I think in my eyes they were up there with God, since they seemed to speak for God. I’m sure I never thought about their lives and personal struggles.

    Thank you for being you and guiding all of us with lots of love and grace, while you yourself are growing as you traverse the path of your own life journey. I myself have grown so much over the past couple of years and I’m sure that NUMC has been a huge part of that growth. Thank you.

    • admin

      Phaedra, thanks for your kind note. I’m glad to be in a church where I can be myself. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you over the last few years.

  7. Liz

    Thank you, Melissa, for this beautiful post and for sharing. Vulnerability, scars and wounds. I admire and learn so much from your openness and authenticity.

    • admin

      Thanks, Liz.

  8. Michael

    And here I thought I missed a ‘special’ service – lol. Stay vulnerable, keep wrestling

    • admin

      thanks, Michael.

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