Short Story Sandbox

You’re Invited to the Short Story Sandbox!

A Peer Group co-sponsored by the Great Plains Conference, UMC and the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU.

Short Story Sandbox is a 5 session preaching peer group focused on reading short stories to vitalize our preaching! If you love stories and would welcome a chance to read something other than spread sheets and biblical commentaries(!), Short Story Sandbox may be just what the doctor ordered.

  • 4 zoom sessions, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (October 25, November 29, January 24, and February 21).
  • The final session (March 28, 2023), will be a face-to-face daylong capstone gathering in Salina, KS at a church (TBA). 

Reading short stories can spark preachers’ imaginations and make us better at our craft. Sessions will focus on various aspects of storytelling (theme, tone, plot, point of view, imagery, scene, and character).

Participants will read one or at most, two, short stories for each session. Sessions will consist of a time of teaching by one of the leaders, followed by discussion of a short story and sharing of brief reflections by group members. PDFs of all short stories will be provided.

Group Leaders

Rev. Dr. Larry Parsley, a lover of stories and a career Baptist pastor, Larry is currently the senior pastor of Valley Ranch Baptist Church in Coppell, Texas. Dr. Parsley holds a Ph.D from Baylor in preaching and ethics and is a regular contributor to Mockingbird Ministries website ( and Christianity Today, writing on the intersection of preaching and literature.

Dr. Alyce McKenzie, Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins and Director of the Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU. She is the author of Novel Preaching: Tips from Top Writers on Crafting Creative Sermons and Making a Scene in the Pulpit: Vivid Preaching for Visual Listeners.

Dr. Lee Ramsey is Marlon and Sheila Foster Professor of Pastoral Theology and Homiletics Emeritus at Memphis Theological Seminary, Memphis, TN. He is the author of  Care-full Preaching: From Sermon to Caring Community and  Preachers and Misfits, Prophets, and Thieves: The Minister in Southern Fiction.


Participants need to be able to attend all 5 sessions. The group is limited to 12, so register quickly if you are interested.

There is a registration fee of $100, payable at registration to the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU.

If the registration closes due to high demand, please email Sabina Hulem to request to be put on a waitlist.

Why Short Stories for Preachers?

  • We preachers are storytellers…about Jesus, the Scriptures, our world, our congregations and ourselves). Listening to stories told well can help us grow in the craft of preaching.
  • With limited time for preparation each week…while novels and biographies have great value, short stories (by their very definition) can drop in more conveniently into a preacher’s busy life. Thus, a preacher can be introduced to a plethora of voices, styles, and themes with an economy of time.
  • Sermons and short stories share some family resemblances. They immerse listeners into a world, they are necessarily selective with detail, they favor climax and epiphany, and they need not tax the listener beyond 20 minutes or so.
  • Short stories provide lessons in
    • EMPATHY – Skilled Preacher/Pastors enter a mysterious portal into the interior lives of people. They have reflected on what it is like to be a bored child, a widower in love, an embarrassed mother, and so much more. Short stories enhance our empathy muscles. They help us see Lazarus under the table.
    • WORDCRAFT – since preachers traffic in words, we can learn vital lessons of taut introductions, tensions managed, surprises revealed, and mysteries uncovered.