I hear a lot of decent sermons. I am talking about sermons that will keep a pastor from getting fired. These are sermons that give the listener just enough to keep people satisfied without giving them enough to change their lives. Is good enough enough?
Probably not. We preach because we are called to preach – called by God, no less, which ought suggest a higher standard. We do not preach to hold our jobs. We preach to see the Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. Good enough for God is very good, more good than what we usually satisfy ourselves with.
Okay, this is intimidating. Most of us work hard and preaching seems harder than ever. At one time we may have been satisfied to do a good job with our texts, but now, in addition to exegetical excellence we have to add excellence in communication. It is not enough anymore that we get our text right, but now we have to speak with creativity and authenticity. Just thinking about it can be exhausting.
Is it possible that preaching could be great, not just good, without being oppressive to our schedules and health? Could we simplify our efforts while at the same time elevating our standard? I think so. Here are just a few things that could help:
1. Talk about your sermon with your listeners before you preach your sermon to them.
I love to interact with people about my sermon themes before I completely form the sermon. Sometimes these interactions are formal and sometimes informal. It is helpful to hear how people react and what they will respond to so that we don’t waste time on matters that will harvest little fruit.
2. Think about how to bring your listeners into the presence of God.
A lot of times we stop our sermons short of the impact they deserve. We do a pretty good job of teaching truths about God without ever leading them into the presence of God. This doesn’t necessarily mean the sermon must be longer. It just means that we could be intentional, carving out some space in the sermon to encourage the response our sermons ought to have. We could do more to help people encounter God through our preaching, encouraging them to thank God, say sorry to God, or find joy in the presence of God.
3. Paint a picture of the sermon as it impacts the world.
A great, not merely good, sermon will offer people a tangible, concrete vision of how the sermon will affect the future. We have vision statements for our churches. How about we have a vision for our sermons also? This goes beyond mere application, to an inspirational form of language that shares in concrete language a dream can capture the imagination of our listeners. Nobody is going to be inspired by our preaching until they can see what our sermon intends.
4. Learn how to care about what you are saying.
We do care, but perhaps not always enough. We do this preaching thing every week. It is hard to care passionately about everything that we say. Perhaps that is because we are not invested quite enough. We need to embody our sermons – to feel the emotion that our sermon ought to offer. It won’t be true if we don’t give ourselves to what we have to say. It is not enough to tell the people why this matters, they need to see it in our body language and hear it in the timbre of our voice. It won’t work for others unless it’s true for us.
Perhaps our preaching never will be good enough, or then again, maybe it always is. God is gracious after all. Still, if we reject the good in favour of an aspiration for the great, we will continue to improve in what we offer. We might even see something greater in the way our listeners hear.