Monday, July 26, 2010

If only sermons were dictated from heaven

Some continuing reflection on getting sermons right.

For this Sunday past I found my sermon preparation went something like this:

Good idea for sermon re connecting it with well-known current event.

Drift through the week confident that the good idea would 'work', going over likely text in my mind from time to time.

Get to some serious writing later in the week.

Emerging feeling that the 'good idea' was not working well, but press on with draft writing.

Complete draft and feel it is not quite 'there'.

Eventually make a decision: drop 'good idea' and work the sermon in a different direction.

Incidentally, this meant allowing the text of Scripture to play a more prominent role in the content of the sermon.

Ultimately the sermon as delivered seemed to work well (praise God).

What do I learn from this?

(1) Underlining of the importance of writing down what I think I am going to say: this forces me to look at what I think is going to 'work' in a different light, to review it, and if necessary to change it.

(2) Listen to feelings sooner rather than later: on reflection my feeling that the good idea was not such a good idea could have been attended to earlier, with a decision made so that the final text was being worked on earlier in the week.

(3) The text of Scripture. The text of Scripture. The text of Scripture. Repeat after me, "the text of Scripture should drive the sermon preparation forward more than anything else!"

You can see from this that I find the greatest challenge in preaching is preparation. If only sermons were dictated from heaven ... but then, God was trying to say something to me, both through his written Word, and through prompting of the Spirit. I was not a very good listener!


Howard Pilgrim said...

Hi Peter ...I have just found your thoughtful series on the process of preaching, working my way backwards to this one which is now over a month old. Nevertheless it is the most appropriate one for me to add my comment, especially given its title.

I think we preachers should always be looking for something from heaven, and I am not referring to a dictated sermon text, but rather to a clear sense of what God wants the congregation to hear from the scriptural texts for the day. That "message from God", born out om my prayerful conern for the people who will gather, then becomes the passionate heart integrating all I know about the texts and the congregation. If I can't define this message in one sentence, or even better into one keyword, then I have no right to stand up to preach. Why should they listen to my wisdom about the text when they want to hear from God? And if I have not heard something from God, why am I preaching? That is why my knees knock every time I climb the pulpit steps, and it is all there in my opening prayer for inspired utterance and inspired hearing. All other preparation is secondary, part of a lifetime's work of study and reflection.

Peter Carrell said...