September 14, 2009

If you aren’t a preacher you may be inclined to say, “no” but if you are a preacher the likelihood is that you will say, “yes!”

So, do you think you can preach? If you aren’t a preacher you may be inclined to say, “no” but if you are a preacher the likelihood is that you will say, “yes!”

A show that is rapidly becoming one of America’s favorites and certainly is in my own family is So You Think You Can Dance. Twenty dancers begin the season with two voted off each week by a combination of the voting of the judges and viewers. One thing is obvious. The competitors can’t fake it. Every week they have to handle a different dance style and if they hope to win they have to “bring it” to the dance floor and make their case.

While we don’t think about preaching in the category of entertainment (although in our entertainment-driven culture of course many people do) it is very much an art form. The degree to which the preacher “brings it” and makes his or her case has a lot to do with whether the listening congregation will vote positively. A “yes” vote on a sermon involves the degree to which it was interesting and the degree to which the listener will respond and “do” according to the word preached.

I remember preaching on stewardship and giving one Sunday morning and a person leaving said it was one of the best he’d ever heard on the subject. I smiled and said, “I’ll let you know!” He smiled back because he understood my point. If the people’s generosity was unaffected by the sermon it may have rated well on the “interesting to listen to” scale but not well on the “response to the Word of God” scale.

If you preach, does your sermon faithfully exegete a biblical text? It’s easy to fill the sermon with anecdotes that entertain without leading people into a deeper encounter with the God of Scripture. Stories and anecdotes can be very powerful ways to teach the content of Scripture but only if that content and its implications are the purpose of the sermon.

Does your sermon bear witness to the reality of God and to faith in the person of Jesus? While reflections on life and living and words of encouragement are appreciated by listeners, it is possible to receive such words from many sources but which do not necessarily stir one’s genuine dependence on almighty God.

Are the truths expressed in the sermon illustrated with story, tone of voice and passion in such a way that the sermon is interesting to hear and the listener’s mind doesn’t wander? Is the sermon engaging, gripping, riveting? If not, why not? If you aren’t sure, ask twenty people to give you anonymous feedback ranking the preaching on biblical content, interest, persuasiveness and application to life. Like the contestants on So You Think You Can Dance, take the counsel of the judges to heart and grow in your preaching.

Have you put enough time into rehearsing the delivery of the sermon that you can offer sustained eye contact with the congregation while you preach? Work towards zero or minimal glances at an outline or manuscript.

Does the sermon call for any form of response in the listener’s faith and practice of their faith?

Preaching is an art form that many of us will practice for many years. Imagine being a champion tennis player, swimmer, golfer, or figure skater who never practiced nor sought to improve! If your preaching is essentially at the same level of effectiveness that it was five years ago it means you are coasting when you should be climbing. The last sermon you preach should be among your finest because you will be at the very top of your game.

At the same time, one of the most freeing realities to preaching and to the entire Christian experience is that it is about God and not about us. Whether the sermon is fantastically well-crafted and delivered or thrown together on the back swing as will happen to every preacher at one time or another, the ultimate impact of the sermon is out of our hands.

No preached words can change the human heart but even the simplest words barely articulated can have a life changing result when enlivened by the Spirit of God. So from the preparation to the presentation of your sermon, commend yourself and its impact utterly to the loving work of our good Lord!

“So shall my word that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Isaiah 55:11 NRSV