My friend Charles does not do preaching as part of his day job (he’s a GP), but he can be very good at it. One of the messages that he preached recently really challenged me.
I have to admit that it wasn’t the contents of the message itself…a message about the two ways of understanding Mary (Jesus’ mother) ‘waiting’ on God…that brought about the desire in me for radical change.
It was the fact that he managed to do everything…introduction, exposition and application…so comprehensively and yet in such a short time (about 15 minutes).
My average sermon is probably about 30 minutes, by which time I’m getting just about warmed up. I blame a number of things: the tradition I come from always seemed to feel it was short changed if a sermon was not at least 45 minutes long, and preferably longer, my love for study, which inevitably leads to a mass of material, my aim to communicate clearly, which adds stories, illustrations and explanations and my goal of sending people away with a desire to be transformed as a result of being exposed to God’s word. I take the responsibility seriously before God and want to get it right.
Charles’ sermon however, working I suspect in combination with the Holy Spirit, made me feel that I have grown lazy, got in a (very long) rut and that I no longer take my discipline seriously. In short, I had fallen back on my preacher’s ‘bag of tricks’ in the preparation and delivery of my sermons…not good.
In the old days I not only prepared sermons, I taught others how to do it. I met with my peers to give and get mutual support, encouragement and criticism. And, of course, I read lots of books about preaching. Until the other day, I hadn’t read a book on the subject for years.
So I am now doing a lot of reading and thinking before I begin my next stint of preaching in the new year. I feel uncomfortable and uneasy. I suspect that trying to preach shorter messages will be hard work, and take more time than preaching long ones. I suspect that as I think seriously about how our culture of communication has changed it will force me to experiment and try doing things differently. This may mean a lot more interaction with my ‘audience’, with opportunities for them to be more involved in the sermon. Congregations can also become lazy. They think they like to be spoon fed, and resent any attempts by the preacher to get their participation.
Maybe I won’t be preaching for much longer!
On the other hand, there may well be people among my ‘participating hearers’ for whom this is a breath of fresh air. I do hope so.
Thanks a lot Charles!