Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pastoral Tension #1: Sermon

The joke for pastors is that we only work one day a week. Preparing and presenting a sermon is our labor; if we're diligent, we'll follow up with a midweek email. Regardless, every Sunday morning by 11:45, anyone could leave our gathering and admit I've worked. "He said something," they exclaim. What I said is up for debate, but that I said anything is certain. Most recent training on sermons suggests having a single core/big/critical/central idea. If the people cannot walk away without parroting a catch phrase, the preacher has failed. Sermons have been reduced to slogans:

  • Follow Christ who favors you.

  • Courageous Christians make challenging choices.

  • Believe in a God who believes in you.

  • Become the answer you are praying for.

  • Save good money at Menards.

I struggle with reductive preaching. Recent critique has validated this. Three times in the past week I've learned that my sermons are overloaded with information. "I don't know what to do with it," one person admitted. "Pray about it," I replied.

Every week (rather, the one day a week I work) the sermon surfaces a pastoral tension: information versus transformation. I'm not dull; I know these two concepts are not mutually exclusive.* In the digital era, information is not at a premium. Nor has it been since the printing press mass produced the KJV 400 years ago. Sadly, access to Scripture has not alleviated biblical illiteracy. Nor has it curbed loose living and nominal Christian testimony.

No, that is what sermons are for--promoting biblical literacy and inspiring spiritual purity. Ideally, the sermon exposes truth from Scripture and its relevance for daily surrender to God. First and foremost, it is biblical. Second and important, it is practical.

I cannot believe that sermon-as-slogan will curb the trend of marginal Christianity. If anything, the problem will be exasperated. I fear the church will suffer from a slow death-by-topical syndrome. Slogans sell hardware and promote patronage, they do not transform lives.

Thus, I approach my work day with fear and trembling. The sermon is inherently limited by time constraints and cultural trends, by attention spans and information gaps. To be truly effective a sermon does not need better crafting and more concise packaging. Transformative preaching requires the presence of the Holy Trinity, who cannot be reduced to a slogan or exhausted by data overload.


* This will be true of every topic in the Pastoral Tension series.

1 comment:

michelle hs said...

personally i love your preaching style. sometimes i get lost in my thoughts during a sermon, but usually i pick out several things to work on or use when i'm talking with the kids at work throughout the week. God is using you to reach me. then God is using me to reach the kids at work. keep on keeping on. you do your job well because it is more than a job, it is a calling and you are being lead by the Holy Spirit!