The Preacher’s Dilemma

 

pulpit_3027cI don’t know if you’ve ever considered it, but most of us preacher-types share a common weekly dilemma: what am I going to say this coming Sunday? 

There are some parameters for most of us, of course. We want what we say to be a message from God that reaches the heart of those who hear. Most of my preaching compadres are committed to the effort of presenting a message from the Bible that is true to the text. It must have ancient connections to modern struggles in order to be both biblical and relevant. The sermon needs to be something that addresses the concerns and lives of the church as it is gathered before them each Sunday.

It will have, of course, elements of the preacher’s personality scattered within. Hopefully it is presented in a lively manner so that it is not boring (although someone will always be bored, sleeping, or staring off into space!). Since this is an ongoing effort, there are attempts made to connect key teachings and doctrines over time to help develop a panoramic view of the Scriptures. In addition, one feels compelled to toss in some video illustrations, adorn the screen with power points and references, choosing appropriate backgrounds for the media-raised generations before us. But not too busy, too loud, or too distracting for the agrarian-raised generations before us. Suggestions to the worship leader for Sunday singing can be made. Sermon planning is done with much prayer, and with consideration of the loved ones in the pew. And a subscription to Homiletics Magazine.

So, it’s easy. Just do that fifty-two Sundays a year. Don’t forget your other classes, presentations, support groups, the essential blogging, and expected pastoral duties.

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

~2 Timothy 4:2-3

I think I have been presenting messages from God’s Word most every Sunday since I was a junior in Bible College (circa 1983) driving out to the Oak Ridge Church of Christ in central Mississippi. There were those five years I spent in youth and campus ministry and a couple of years working in admissions for a college (both of which required weekly lessons numbering two or three a week anyway). That doesn’t make me the most experienced minister in the room but that is roughly 30 years of preaching and teaching the Bible.

Most of it I have done at my own text and topic selection. True, there have been times when I preached through the Bible in a year. Once I subjected the church to an entire year of messages from the Sermon on the Mount. Even I wanted that series to end! I certainly have preached through specific areas of the Bible … the Gospels … the Minor Prophets … and certain books as well.

Still, many of us are making our way through the year praying, searching, sharing and generally trying to avoid sermon panic. I’m really tired of that. For those of you who have a ‘Word from the Lord’ for every week, God bless you. Sometimes when I have let busyness keep me from my studies I feel a ‘Smirk from the Lord’, but that’s not something I’m proud of.

What to do about this? Some of my ultra organized friends plan out their sermons six months or a year in advance. I wish I could do that. I’ve tried. Instead, what ends up happening is a kind variety of topics and texts woven throughout the year, sometimes with intermittent series on interesting subjects or the holidays as they occur. But I really am convicted that sermons should not be presented around the subjective whims of the preacher. Nor should parishoners be satisfied with such.

For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. ~Acts 20:27

How do you know that you’re preaching the whole will of God? In my thinking there has to be a plan. Something in place that will veer me toward the passages I might otherwise not choose. Some of those hard-to-explain passages might find their way to the “preach another Sunday” file, never to emerge. And as much as my generation of preachers has bent over backwards to make the sermons relevant, seeker-sensitive, media-rich, and evangelistic, the truth is that the assembly time is for the Christian. And Christians who gather weekly have a right to expect that the Word of God is being carefully presented to them with all effort made to be clear, exhaustive, and connective.

There ought to be a plan. You won’t be surprised when I tell you that there is.

Next Post in this Series: The Preacher’s Direction. Thanks for reading!

John

 

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