Sunday, January 23, 2011

Preacher know thyself, thy temptations, and thy hobby horses

I preached today for the first time for several weeks (and for the first of a sequence of invitations in the next few weeks).

I leave it to the congregation concerned to appraise the actual sermon they heard, and God is my judge for what I delivered. Here I want to reflect on how I got to what was preached. I found as I was working on the sermon that I was doing something I often do in sermon preparation. It goes something like this:

(a) oh, I see X (within the overall course of the sermon) is a potential problem in respect of offering some thinking which is logically secure and pastorally responsible. (Often X is an aspect of the problem of suffering).
(b) what if a more than averagely learned, or more than ordinarily expected sufferer of life's tragedies is present?
(c) I had better make sure I say something sensible and sensitive in respect of X.
(d) oh, and I see that a related problem, Y, needs to be mentioned as well,
(e) Let me see ... First, ... Second, ... then this means (a) .... then, (b) ....
(f) Is this becoming too complicated? A long-winded complicated argument for the listeners to follow? Are those eyes of the congregation glazing over in my imagination as I think about delivering the sermon tomorrow?

I won't tell you when I felt that (f) was definitely in view, or when I determined that a fairly substantial change would and should be made to what I had prepared, but it was fairly late in the process of preparation.

My temptation, you see, is to become convoluted. It is all in a good cause (trying to honour the integrity of people's intellectual curiosity and/or pastoral needs). But (experience has often shown me) it is not good overall. Too many of the congregation are lost to the message when I give into the temptation and a complex sermon results.

What is your temptation as a preacher?  What do you need to discipline out of your sermon during the preparation stage?

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