Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Another "E" of Preaching: one to avoid

Here is another "E" in preaching: Explanation.

I suggest this "E" word is one to try to avoid as much as possible.

Explanations tend to give information and contribute little to transformation. Within a sermon explanations are a sidetrack down which the sermon heads, away from the main point of the sermon. By 'sidetrack' I mean: a state into which the hearers are led from which they might not come back. In my case I will probably have fallen asleep during the explanation!

'Explanation' includes explaining how the sermon came to be written, why the topic was chosen, what got in the way of its steady progress during the week of preparation. Do not do this. The sermon's purpose is to point people to the God of Jesus Christ, not to the autobiography of the preacher.

'Explanation' includes explaining technical matters. These could be matters within the biblical text itself such as what a Pharisee was, or where Pergamum is, or how big a mustard tree grows. Sometimes these explanations contribute to the impact of the point of the sermon and thus should be made, but even then, concisely! An example might be the degradation of the prodigal son in Luke 15: tending pigs was not what good Jewish boys did (or do, to this day).

Technical matters could also be about life as it is related to the biblical text. Peace and justice in this world is threatened by the decisions of world powers. A little explanation, a few illustrations will underline this point ... but please, literally "for God's sake", for the sake of drawing hearers towards God, and not towards the complexities of politicians' lives, be as brief, as concise as possible.

A third possibility re technical matters in sermons can be 'the theology of X'. Perhaps the biblical text is about the work of the Spirit in our lives. We feel a need to distinguish between that work in terms of 'gifts of the Spirit' and of 'fruit of the Spirit.' Well there are many gifts and many kinds of fruit. We could get a long way from the central point we wish to make very quickly with explanations about 'gifts' and 'fruit'. Here advice might not only be, as above, to be brief and concise in the explanation, it might also be to ask ourselves the question, "Is the feeling I have that I need to make some distinction between the Spirit's gifts and fruit a feeling which I need to act on?" That is, might there be another way to talk about how the Spirit works in our lives? There will be other opportunities to talk about the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit.

Take care when the text of our sermons has the character of 'explanation.'

PS Take even greater care when  we start ad libbing explanations. They are so difficult to bring to a quick ending.

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