Up until the last two months, I have been an outsider to full-time preaching. For 35 years I have gotten to listen to a lot of different preachers week in and week out, at the lectures and at retreats. After being in the audience all of these years there is one question that has always been a part of me being a listener that I am trying my best to address now being on the other side of the conversation and that question is, “Why are we talking about this?”
I do not believe preaching should be about covering random topics with little to no direction. I also do not believe every single sermon for the next 52 weeks must be perfectly organized an orchestrated in advance. But I do believe that preaching has to have a purpose and here is what that purpose boils down to a more specific version of the first question and that is, “Where is all of this taking us?”
Preaching the Journey
Both Testaments refer to life as a “walk” because life takes you some place and so a sermon. You won’t get there in a day or a month, a year, or maybe even a lifetime but you are headed somewhere and it is important that you recognize the destination and see each week as opportunities to learn important lessons in the 52 pit stops we make in the journey each year.
Why do travelers on a long journey (think before cars and planes…on foot or at best on a horse) need to stop and take a break? Sometimes you halt the journey because you know the congregation needs rest and encouragement to keep going. Don’t challenge those weeks…instead be a voice of hope and encouragement. Sometimes you stop the trek because you have to get re-focused, re-energized and re-minded of exactly why you picked doing this trip in the first place. In times like those you speak boldly. You challenge. You try to light a fire of encouragement and cast a vision of what the journey is all about so people can keep on course and carry on. Other times you realize the people are hungry and need to be fed or are hurting and need some compassion or are cold and need to be warmed or thirsty and need something to drink.
A good preacher is a good leader, who is in tune with what is going on with those they minister to and with.
A few purposes to consider:
- Increase biblical knowledge – you can preach just to get people more in tune with the story of scripture but here is the thing, make sure you tell them that is exactly what they are doing. If you don’t communicate why you are doing this, you might just leave them scratching their heads as to why you covered all of that and didn’t give any sort of application. Why? Because learning to read and understand scripture is vitally important for a life of faith and because people are growing less bibllically literate.
- Identity formation – reinforcing their Christian identity and worldview. Why? Because we live in a pluralistic society where Christianity is no longer the sole viable option. Christians need taught, now more than ever, who they are and what that means in the real world.
- Apologetics – Help them learn to think through and find answers to the tough questions. Why? Because the world is asking and they should be ready to answer.
- Engage ministry and involvement – The congregation should be regularly encouraged to participate in easily identifiable ministries. That means, blanket statements about how all Christians should be evangelistic isn’t as helpful or effective as inviting and encouraging them to be a part of something that is evangelistic. Make it simple, obvious and doable. Don’t preach a sermon on a particular area of Christian ministry without somehow highlighting how the church/people are already doing it or that the sermon is at least part of a series to help launch viable outreach.
- Change the culture – Unlike launching a new ministry or reinforcing existing ministries, changing a culture takes a lot of time. It takes the repeating of key ideas necessary to move a group of people from point A to point B. So you celebrate, discuss and move people toward a more biblical vision partly through preaching.
There are dozens more we could list but the idea is simple. Know what is going on and intentionally communicate toward it and toward the next three things you see coming as a result of your current congregational location.
Last, never forget to answer the question, “How does what we are talking about today have to do with the real world in which we live the other 99% of the week?” If you can’t answer that question, the sermon isn’t ready.
Your input – Since I am a newbie here…2 questions, one for those in the audience and one for those who preach:
For non-preachers – What are you looking for in a sermon/What questions do you like to see answered?
For preachers – What do you do to keep your sermon purposeful and focused?