Metaphorical Movement


The metaphorical movement structure is based upon the dynamics of metaphor as explained by Justin Rossow.

A metaphor enables us to “see one thing in terms of another.” The metaphorical movement sermon structure builds upon this experience by creating three different moments in the sermon: (1) experiencing the metaphorical world (e.g., the world of shepherding); (2) opening the eyes of faith to see the works of God in terms of that metaphorical world (e.g., Jesus is the Good Shepherd); and (3) seeing the world anew as one looks at life through these eyes of faith now shaped by that metaphorical world (e.g., God’s people listen to the voice of their Good Shepherd).

In the first section of the sermon, the preacher evokes an experience of the metaphorical world, paying attention to concrete descriptive details that not only create that world in the imagination of the hearers but also prepare the hearers for a later discovery of teachings of the faith in light of the chosen metaphor. For example, a sermon could begin by evoking the metaphorical world of the “Dance of Death” as it was visually depicted on the walls of St. Mary’s Church in Lubeck in 1463. Here, the hearers will experience what it is like to be surrounded by the dance of death, hearing Death extends its hand and cry, “Come.”

In the second section of the sermon, the preacher uses the lens of the metaphor to clarify the faithful confession of the sermon. Here, the preacher works with the Scriptural text, the theological confession, and the evangelical proclamation in terms that flow from the metaphorical world. Here, the metaphor should clarify rather than obscure. That is, through the lens of the metaphor, the hearers should be brought to a deeper understanding and experience of the text, the confession of faith, and the proclamation of Christ. For example, a sermon could use the metaphor of the Dance of Death as a lens to help the hearers understand the evangelical beauty of Isaiah 55, where the Spirit cries “Come” to God’s people who are surrounded by death and judgment in the exile. This invitation of the Spirit ultimately reveals Christ as the Lord of Life: he danced with death on the cross, defeated it, and now has risen and through his Spirit invites all people to “Come” and walk in newness of life in him.

In the third section of the sermon, the preacher now turns from the confession of faith to the lives of God’s people and helps them see their lives anew. In this section, the lives of God’s people will be interpreted in light of the theological teaching of the sermon that has been clarified by the use of the metaphor. Although God’s people will look at something with which they are familiar in this section of the sermon, the metaphorical lens causes them to discover things they had not seen before or to see their lives in a new way. For example, a sermon could use the proclamation of Christ as the Lord of Life to help God’s people hear how the Spirit in baptism calls them die and rise with Christ that they might walk in newness of life in him.

When working with metaphors, the preacher will need to be attentive to the limits of the metaphor. Since any metaphor can be pushed too far, the preacher may need to alert the hearers to ways in which the metaphor is limited but still useful for faithful reflection.


Chapel Sermon by Peter Nafzger from Romans 13:8-14 on Monday, December 2, 2019.

© 2014 David Schmitt. All rights reserved.

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  1. Jason September 22, 2021

    It would be awesome to get two or three examples of this type of sermon form. Dr. Nafzger’s sermon was great, yet to make sure I more fully understand the form it would be great to hear a few more examples. Is there somewhere I could go to hear more examples of this form?

    • David September 27, 2021

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for your interest. For further description of this structure and examples, you will want to look at Justin Rossow’s website (particularly the section, “Preaching Metaphor”) and the sermons that he offers there.



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