The most critical question is not what illustration to use or how many points one needs in a sermon. It is not even about form and function…what form does the sermon need to take or what function does this sermon have in the life of the church. Before all of that the critical question in all preaching and teaching that should be asked every single time we prepare something for public consumption is “Why?”. Why is this particular thing the next thing this community of faith needs to hear and not something else?
If you can’t say with some level of certainty that what you are thinking about teaching is the most important next thing then it is important to figure out: A) why you were convinced it was the thing you wanted to preach on? and B) why aren’t you settled that it is as important as you first thought? Through that process you will either confirm the topic or text in mind or find one that fits better.
This question is one reason that I am not a big fan of determining sermons a year in advance. The advantage of laying out sermons six months or a year in advance is that it makes sure you don’t keep repeating yourself and that you work through scripture more intentionally. The downside of that approach is that you may not know what will be the most important thing to say in May, that the congregation really needs, as opposed to something you thought you would want to preach when you set the schedule. That is the point, what the congregation most needs to hear is not always the thing we will most want to preach on.
I hear a lot of preachers ask via social media what they should preach or teach on next and I think that is a difficult question for someone who doesn’t have their finger on the pulse of that congregation to answer.
As you consider what is next, consider asking yourself “why?” Why is this the most important thing and not something else?
The priest where I regularly attend said in a Sunday homily that he had written one on Monday before leaving town and after watching the events of the week unfold, he had to rewrite it on Thursday because the original one was not strong enough. Sometimes, the already written sermon has to be put away on short notice. For anyone reading this who preaches, when all hell breaks loose during the week, an insufficiently strong sermon planned months in advance won’t cut it.
Exactly! Being in tune with the Spirit, the text, the community, etc all has to converge into the sermon.