11 Books for Preachers in the Purple Zone

You’re a preacher and you know you need to address the assault against humanity and our planet that is being perpetrated by the Trump administration.  But some things are holding you back. Maybe you don’t feel informed enough about certain issues.  Maybe you don’t feel you received enough training in seminary for how to preach a prophetic sermon.  Maybe you’re afraid of the push-back from members of your congregation if you tackle topics that seem too “political.”  Or maybe you just need a shot of homiletical chutzpah.

prophetic preacher of the month.3.5x2.5


If you’re reading this, consider yourself part of the new Prophetic Preacher of the Month Club. Below are my recommendations for the coming year.  This is an arbitrary list, I know.  And there are many more that could (and should) be included.  But this is a start.  If you read just one book a month, you will increase your effectiveness as a preacher and be doing a great service for those in your congregation who are looking for a sermon that addresses the issues that matter to them, to our communities, to our Earth, and to “the least of these.”



Preaching in the Era of TrumpO. Wesley Allen (Chalice Press, 2017)

Preaching in the Era of Trump is like a much needed urgent-care facility for preachers reeling from the election and its aftermath.  Wes Allen offers not only an accurate diagnosis for how our country and the church has found itself in this place of crisis, but prescribes effective strategies for preachers to address the fear, turmoil, prejudices, hatred, and divisiveness of this time, as well as the need for proclaiming prophetic justice.  While never mincing words about the staggering array of evil now before us, Allen also reminds us in this must-have book that the preacher’s task is to address the humanity of our congregations, even while casting out the demonic forces that hold us in thrall.


Preaching Fools: The Gospel as a Rhetoric of Folly; Charles L. Campbell and Johann H. Cilliers (Baylor University Press, 2012)

You’ll be reading this book in preparation for Sunday, April 2, the day after April Fool’s.  There will be many times when you feel like an utter fool in the pulpit against the powers of evil-on-steroids that have strengthened with this president. Campbell and Cilliers’ book will not only help you rethink and reframe the homiletical task, it will equip you with stories, images and metaphors for helping your congregation celebrate their role as “fools for Christ,” proclaiming the message of the cross that tells the truth and calls the gospel-reality into existence.


Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit; Leah D. Schade (Chalice Press, 2015)

Shameless self-plug here, I know.  But Trump has appointed some of the most heinous climate-denying, anti-environmental, anti-public-health people ever for the positions of leadership in the White House. So preachers need to keep Creation-care front and center for their congregations.  Especially as the world celebrates Earth Day, we need sermons that will prophetically and creatively engage this reality in the face of the climate-change denial exhibited by the incoming administration.  This book will provide theological and scriptural background for greening your preaching, as well as practical tips for becoming an “ecopreacher.”


Telling the Truth:  PreachingAbout Sexual and Domestic Violence; Edited by John S. McClure and Nancy J. Ramsay (United Church Press, 1998)

With Mother’s Day this month, the focus is on women.  The onslaught against women’s access to reproductive health and their right to choose how to make decisions about the most intimate parts of their bodies is exacerbated by a misogynist president who bragged about sexual assault.  Nearly every congregation in this country has victims, survivors, or perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence in its pews.  This is the book I recommend for preacher who need sage guidance about how to address these issues as a pastor and a preacher.  The collection of 15 essays covers theological and biblical perspectives, provides resources for telling the truth about sexual and domestic violence, gives practical how-to’s for preaching, and includes model sermons.


Preaching Justice: Ethnic and Cultural Perspectives; Edited by Christine Smith (Wipf and Stock, 1998)

This is an ideal time to familiarize yourself with the standpoints of “the other.”  Whether you are a white preacher looking for an essay from an African American woman’s perspective (provided by Teresa Fry Brown), or an African American preacher wondering how Korean Americans fare in this country (explained by Eunjoo Mary Kim), or a Latina/o preacher wanting to help your congregation understand the Jewish perspective on justice (shared by Stacy Offner), these and five other essays will expand your preaching horizons.


Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-EconomicVocation; Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda (Augsburg Fortress, 2013)

The summer is a good time for a sermon series on the ways in which systemic evil attacks “the least of these.”  While Moe-Lobeda’s book is not aimed at preachers per se, her approach to the complexity of interrelated structures of evil is very helpful for sermons because she provides case studies that give us glimpses into the lives of real people affected by the decisions we make every day.  The first half of the book will give you incredible insights into the economic and ideological patterns that gave rise to Trumpism in the first place, while the second half of the book provides concrete approaches to galvanizing yourself and your community for resistance.


Under the Oak Tree: The Church as a Community of Conversation in a Conflicted and Pluralistic World; Edited by Ronald J. Allen, John S. McClure and O. Wesley Allen Jr. (Cascade Books, 2013)

You’ll be reading this book in preparation for leading a series of conversations in your congregation about some of the “wicked” (i.e. complex) problems our country is facing.  The task of preaching about difficult social justice issues is helped when we have cultivated a culture of dialogue in our congregations.  Under the Oak Tree contains eleven essays to help you think through the concept of conversational practical theology and how to view the tasks of ministry (including preaching, worship, evangelism and interfaith relations) through this lens of conversation.


Prophetic Preaching: A Pastoral Approach; Leonora Tubbs Tisdale (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010)

With the “community of conversation” as your frame of reference, you’ll read Tisdale’s book to give you that infusion of courage for addressing social issues in the pulpit in tandem with the dialogue series you’ll be leading this month.  The author suggests a myriad of reasons why pastors resist preaching about justice issues and offers practical suggestions for ways to be both pastoral and prophetic in their preaching.  This book offers specific strategies to break through resistance as well as a variety of forms to help spark your prophetic imagination.


Preaching as Weeping, Confession and Resistance: Radical Responses to Radical Evil; Christine M. Smith (Westminster/John Knox, 1992)

The month of October brings out the ghosts and goblins as our culture celebrates Halloween.  Consider a sermon series entitled “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and address the true demons loosed on our society.  Christine Smith’s book gives you the theological and biblical tools to address handicappism, ageism, sexism, heterosexism, white racism and classism.  The last chapter provides some model sermons to prime your preaching pump.


Preaching Politics: Proclaiming Jesus in an Age of Money, Power, and Partisanship; Clay Stauffer (Chalice Press, 2015).

November is usually the month when churches launch their stewardship campaigns.  This year as we contend with a president who wouldn’t even be forthcoming about his tax returns or divest himself from his companies, help your congregation understand why Jesus’ teachings speak a necessary ethical corrective.  Stauffer provides a guide for understanding the need and biblical justification for preaching about the politically contentious issues of money, greed, and power within a capitalist society.   With sound exegesis of key teachings of Jesus on money and faith, as well as robust theological engagement with Stanley Hauerwas and Adam Hamilton, this book is useful for both preaching and leading Bible studies.  Stauffer encourages, equips and emboldens preachers to tackle these issues from the study and the pulpit with renewed confidence.


Living Beyond the “End of the World”: A Spirituality of Hope; Margaret Swedish (Orbis Books, 2008)

If you follow the Revised Common Lectionary, the Advent readings contain the apocalyptic texts of Jesus.  The Bible does not shy away from naming the upheaval in our world, and neither does Swedish.  Yet she challenges us to articulate what kind of human beings we will be as we approach this difficult period in human history, and how we will live into that.  With solid biblical exegesis (especially her treatment of the “loaves and fishes”) your preaching will benefit from the way she clearly presents the values, vision, and spiritual resources that can nurture a new human community even when the evidence points to the world falling apart.
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary; Lexington, Ky. Contact her at  lschade@lextheo.edu.  And visit The Purple Zone website to learn more.


Clergy Trend-Watch: Top 7 Justice Issues Preachers will be Addressing in the Next 6 Months

Economic issues top list, with racial and ethnic tensions coming in second

March 11, 2017

If you are a Mainline Protestant preacher in the United States, chances are you will be addressing economic issues such as poverty, consumerism, debt or homelessness within the next 6 months.  This is according to a survey of over 1200 clergy conducted by The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade, Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, Ky.  Over half (56.92%) of clergy reported that economic issues would be among the top five topics they intend to address from the pulpit over the next 6 months.  Racial and/or ethnic issues came in second, with 49.28% of pastors saying they plan to speak about this topic in their preaching.

The survey “Preaching about Controversial Issues” is one of the largest surveys on preaching and sermon content ever conducted in the United States.  As part of Schade’s research into how preachers are approaching their sermons during this divisive time in our nation’s history, she designed and conducted a 60-question online survey directed to Mainline Protestant clergy serving congregations in the United States.  The survey ran for six weeks, from mid-January to the end of February.  One of the questions listed 19 choices of topics and asked respondents to pick the top five they intend to preach about in the next 6 months (see charts below for full list).

Here are the Top 7 topics Mainline Protestant preachers intend to address in their sermons in the next 6 months:

Economic issues (poverty, consumerism, debt, homelessness) 56.9%
Racial and/or ethnic issues 49.3%
Immigration/Refugees/Migrant workers 43.7%
Food insecurity/hunger 34.2%
Ethnic and/or religious discrimination issues (anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Native American issues, etc.) 33.9%
Equal rights (for women, LGBTQI, racial, religious, etc.) 32.8%
Interfaith relations 26.7%

How does this ranking compare to what preachers chose to address before the 2016 presidential election?

Schade also asked preachers to indicate topics they had mentioned in sermon in the previous 12 months, drawing from a list of 38 issues.  When grouped according to categories, “Economic Issues” and “Racial and/or Ethnic Issues” were also ranked #1 and #2 respectively.  But the issue of “Immigration/refugees/migrant workers” rose to #3 compared to its previous position, while “Food insecurity and hunger” moved down to #4.   “Ethnic and/or religious discrimination issues” rose in importance for pastors to address in the coming six months, while “Equal rights” and “Interfaith relations” remained about the same.

“In many ways it’s not surprising that preachers continue to rank economic issues as their foremost concern,” said Schade, noting that the Gospels mention the subject of money more than any other topic.  “Jesus talked a great deal about how to handle money and possessions. As we’re grappling with the widening gap between the haves and have-nots in this country, it makes sense that preachers are addressing justice issues that have to do with the fair distribution of resources, housing, and the ongoing issue of exploitation of those with limited access to funds,” Schade observed.

She also pointed out that many of the issues listed in the survey intersect and overlap with each other.  “For example, systemic and institutional racism contributes to poverty and hunger among people of color. And climate change impacts the refugee crisis, which is also complexified by Islamophobia and xenophobia,” Schade observed.

What topics scored lowest?

Schade also noted the topics that preachers ranked lowest on their list of priorities to address in the coming six months.  “Disabilities,” “Human trafficking,” “Terrorism,” “War,” and “Criminal justice reform” all ranked below 10% among topics preachers intend to address in their upcoming sermons.  “Ministers have to prioritize, and it’s interesting to see the issues that have moved lower as others come to the forefront in relation to executive orders and policies of the Trump administration,” said Schade.

One of topic that took a notable hit is attention to mental health issues, Schade observed.  “Mental illness was among the top ten in issues addressed in the last 12 months, but now only 17% of pastors plan to address the topic in their sermons over the next six months.  Mental health is related to so many other issues such as addictions, suicide, and domestic violence.  But it’s just not seen as a priority when compared to so many other issues that need urgent attention.”

She also noted one topic that rose in importance for preachers to address:  environmental issues.  “Things like species extinction, pollution, and environmental racism ranked at the bottom of the list of things pastors addressed in the last 12 months – less than ten percent in most cases,” Schade said. “But environmental issues saw a slight bump up to 17%.  This may be due, in part, to the realization that the Trump administration is undermining all aspects of environmental protection, from gutting the EPA, to reversing key environmental regulations, to dismissing the reality and dangers of climate change,” Schade suggested.

Attention to Bible and lectionary readings are key

Schade stressed that many respondents took care to note that their sermon subjects are not necessarily driven by current events, but by the lectionary readings assigned for the day.  “Many preachers follow the Revised Common Lectionary and will only preach about a specific topic if it is applicable to the biblical text,” Schade noted.  For example, one respondent wrote:

My preaching does not address specific issues. I talk a lot about the Biblical importance of justice and care of the poor, stressing human dignity and our responsibility to be good stewards of all that God entrusts to us. I try to give people tools to do their own assessment of the issues that they are concerned about.

Other respondents noted that they do not decide what they will preach about until that week, but will often mention current issues as they pertain to the biblical text.

Ultimately, preachers keep their focus on the scriptures, Schade concluded.  As one respondent said, “The top topic I intend to preach on is the gospel reading of the day. If it leads me to preach on any of these [issues] (and often it does), I will go there.”

For more information, contact:

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade, Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship

Lexington Theological Seminary; Lexington, Ky.

lschade@lextheo.edu; Cell:  610-420-6861

And visit her website, https://www.thepurplezone.net/ for more information.

Question:  Pick the TOP FIVE of the following topics that you INTEND to address or incorporate into your preaching WITHIN THE NEXT 6 MONTHS.*

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 top topics, text

* The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.2 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. In addition to sampling error, survey may also be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context and order effects.  Survey was designed and conducted using SurveyMonkey.com.

Welcome to The Purple Zone!

Welcome to The Purple Zone! In a society increasingly polarized and averse to respectful dialogue, our churches reflect the wide range of viewpoints across the Red/Blue divide that can entangle pastors and parishioners within divisive controversy.  And yet the prophetic and Gospel witness of the Bible compels us to address contemporary justice issues.  There is much at stake:  incredible amounts of wealth, questions of power and equality, the ecological conditions that support life itself, and the very real persons affected by these issues all have a stake in our conversations, decisions, policies and actions.  How do we listen to each other across hostile divides of red/blue politics, race, class, gender and sexuality, geography, culture, and religion?  How is God speaking to us through these difficult conversations?

I am the Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade, your guide in The Purple Zone.  A seminary professor of preaching and worship, a researcher exploring how pastors handle controversial issues, and an ELCA ordained clergyperson with 16 years of experience in parish ministry in diverse cultures and contexts, I am exploring ways that pastors can preach and do ministry that is true to their gospel calling, while recognizing the many risks involved in courageous preaching and ministry.  How can we be both pastoral and prophetic? This is one of the driving questions of my work.  The challenge of addressing controversial justice issues from the pulpit is fraught with risks, but also offers opportunities for proclaiming the gospel and building community in profound and contextual ways.

This work is also for Christians in congregations looking to develop strategies for initiating and navigating conversations around “hot topics” while maintaining relationships and emphasizing God’s creative, hope-filled and redeeming activity in our world.  I am particularly interested in exploring how the process of deliberative dialogue can be useful for moving us beyond “fake news” (aka “viral deception”) and “alternative facts” to a place where we can respect each other’s humanity while moving toward reconciliation and rebuilding, while  – most importantly – protecting those most vulnerable in these conversations.

This blog will offer articles informed by my research in which I surveyed 1200 Mainline Protestant pastors in the United States about how they are approaching controversial justice issues in the pulpit.  I will also be sharing reflections based on my experiences listening to pastors, parishioners and ecclesial leaders, as well as book reviews, lists of resources, and any other tips and tactics to help us move and minister within The Purple Zone.

Visit https://www.thepurplezone.net/ to learn more.  And stay tuned for more posts!