Sunday, August 22, 2010

Repeat After Me

Only preach one sermon at a time. Never preach two sermons at one sitting. Repeat after me ...

Why state this? I think a temptation in preaching to the lectionary is to preach a sermon on two or more of the readings. The challenge is to preach one sermon only. That is, to preach a sermon which majors on one reading and minors on the others; or a sermon which follows a single theme through the readings; or a sermon which combines the three readings together in one, single, pertinent message.

It is possible to preach two or more sermons within the one period of the service called, 'the sermon.' That, I suggest, is a big mistake. No matter how brilliant each of the sermons is, together they will undermine the persuasive effect of each.

Only preach one sermon at a time. Repeat after me.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sharpen Up

Trying to penetrate deep into the mysteries of preaching, including reflection on most recent sermons I have heard or preached myself, I remain convinced that being able to sum up the message of the sermon in one sentence is the key to great preaching. Allied with 'one sentence' as a methodological tool to preach better sermons, I remind myself that 'simplicity' as an aim for each sermon is vital to the most effective preaching (in the sense that effective preaching, at the least, communicates a message which is remembered when the sermon is over). Simplicity includes avoiding sidetracks (interesting though they may be) and side passages (good and true though they may be), as well as returning again and again to the message being delivered.

It is possible to deliver a non-simple, multiple messages sermon which people appreciate in a variety of ways. One of the several messages 'hits home'. One of the stories told is deliciously entertaining and memorable. The deliverer may be blessed with a tone and timbre of voice which means that just about anything they say has the effect of making the congregation feel good about life. These things are not irrelevant or unimportant to congregational life!

But, in the long-term, preachers may want to be more effective than 'thankfully something I said seemed to hit home to one or two' or 'I got some nice feedback about the sermon being very nice.' And congregations, to mature in Christ, need to be taught well, accumulating depth and breadth in knowledge of God's love for them in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ's work in them through the Holy Spirit. Simple, clear messages, week by week, over time, will be the most satisfying preaching for both preacher and hearers.

So, our challenge as preachers: sharpen up. One sentence summary of what we say? Yes! Simplicity of overall content? Yes, please!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The secret of great preaching?

Less is more.

Is that the secret of great preaching?

It is an increasing conviction of mine that a sermon should be able to be summed up in one sentence, that it should have one main point, and that it should not be overloaded with points/lessons/teachings (no matter how good, wonderful and important they are).

Less is more.

Is simplicity and conciseness the key to cracking the barrier between 'good' sermons and 'great' sermons?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The edge in preaching

One of the great challenges of preaching today is preaching which is both engaging and compelling. By 'engaging' I mean 'capturing and holding the attention, interest, and heartfelt reception of the message by the hearer.' By 'compelling' I mean 'forcing the hearer to respond (at least in their heart) to the message AND pressing the hearer to choose to return for the next sermon.'

We live in a busy world, with competing demands on time, and many, many messages competing for our attention and reception. In theory Christians should come to church, week by week, save for serious illness. In practice, as many ministers observe to each other, the 'new regularity' is twice a month. (Once 'regular' was twice on Sunday!)

If this week's sermon is, "Well, okay, quite a good exposition of the readings, with some useful things to say, but, to be honest, went on a little bit long, and, if I am really honest, I kind of drifted off through the middle section, and, in the end, I am not sure how it relates to my life right now" then "Will I come back?" does not have a guaranteed affirmative answer!

Now, to head off one obvious response, there is a fine line between sermons which are entertaining in their attempt to be engaging, and unhealthily emotive in their attempt to be compelling. Nothing here is intended to direct preachers to become 'more entertaining' or 'more emotive'.

But is it too much to ask of preachers, especially of myself (!!), that in my/our preparation I keep asking myself/ourselves, what is engaging me/us? What is compelling to me/us about the message being prepared? What passionate edge do I/we bring to the importance of the message which will (to mix metaphors) both cut into the heart of its hearers and rub off from preacher to congregation?

If my review-of-progress on Friday is that the message sounds pretty ho-hum, then I need to rework it. Not inventing an 'edge' which does not exist, but finding the edge which is always in Scripture because hearing Scripture and obeying it is a matter of life and death.