Sunday, August 2, 2009

Deep and reverent but heady and irrelevant

Deep and reverent, but heady and irrelevant. This is how I would characterize my preaching. For the past three years I have immersed myself in the preparation of sermons. I think I have finally come to grips with how to study well for sermons--but I have spent little time in learning how to prepare and deliver an excellent sermon. Honestly, this was somewhat intentional. I abhor shallow preaching that is low on content but high on talk-show motivational lingo. Such preaching may have the form of godliness but it lacks true spiritual power. Scripture tells us to avoid such preaching and such preachers (2 Tim 3:5). So, in an effort to truly preach the text I have purposefully concentrated on deep and intense study. If I was going to err, it was going be on the side of a boring sermon that was deep and accurate.

But (and here is the kicker)...we are not supposed to be content with anything less than vibrant, culturally relevant, and biblically faithful sermons. Week after week I watch the faces on my congregation who patiently endure (what I hope to be) faithful preaching with solid content but which ultimately lacks relevance to their personal lives. I cannot feel too guilty about this--after all I was growing as a preacher and focusing solely on being accurate to the scriptural text. But for some time now I have been hearing the still voice of the Spirit urging me to become zealously missional in my approach to preaching. Preaching that is deep and reverent, but also heady and irrelevant, is not preaching--it's just a lecture.

Over the coming weeks and months I am committing all my resources in learning to preach in a culturally relevant and personally engaging manner. Everything must change: the way I speak, the way I stand, the way I dress, the way I construct the sermon, how I open & close the message, and the stories & illustrations I use. God's truth is a precious jewel and I must learn to handle it as a expert jewler. As of now, this is what I am seeing:

1. In your study dig deeply for diamonds---both small and large. I am all for deep study. I spent three years learning how to do this well and do not plan on walking away from this essential task. Each week I write what is essentially an exegetical commentary on the passage of scripture under review (complete with research on the textual variants, word studies, syntaxical issues, and doctrinal considerations). I flip through piles of commentators and allocate a considerable portion of my income in an effort to have an ever-increasing exegetical library. I desire to know the passage backwards and forwards--even to the point of memorizing the passage in Greek (my Hebrew isn't that good). Such study brings the passage alive and allows me to better see the radiance of God's glory and truth.

2. Give your congregation only the choicest stone. Even though I insist on doing what was described above I must remember that my congregation doesn't need to hear about every little diamond I dug up in my study. Each week I see faces of people who do not comprehend what I am saying. My language is theological and my expressions detached from real life. In the foyer we converse as normal human beings and I sense a good connection--but when I rise to the pulpit I flip a switch and turn on the "preacher-language". I immediately sense the connection is lost. My error has been basically in that I preach my study, instead of preaching the results of my study. I have overwhelmed my congregation with exegetical details instead of showing them one the precious gem that has potential for impacting their life.

3. A diamond is only a good as its setting. A diamond by itself is a pretty thing but it is fairly useless. I guess you could carry it around all day in a little pouch but what would be the point? A diamond only becomes useful when it is set onto a piece of jewlry. A gold band or a silver chain enables a pretty stone to become a beautiful adornment. Jesus did this all the time with his teaching. He took solid biblical truth and encased it in meaningful stories adapted to his cultural context. He imbedded truth into people's lives in a relaxed, down-t0-earth, authentic way. Sermons that are 3-point outlines are sermons that are probably irrelevant to people's lives. We can only claim to have truly shared Gospel truth when it is imbedded into something to which people can relate.

4. Jewels need to be polished to sparkle. A diamond ring is a great thing but only a polished ring sparkles. Grabbing stories and illustrations from the internet doesn't do the job. We must spend as much time polishing our sermon as we do studying the passage. Our task is to communicate God's truth. There are two essential parts to this: (1) study God's truth so we can share it; and (2) study communication techniques to share this truth well.

I must transform my preaching to acheive preaching that is transformational.

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  1. You should use the black cowboy as an illustration more often. That one stuck with me. no idea what the sermon was about but i remember the illustration.

  2. It is good to evaluate ourselves in these things brother.

    Haddon Robinson's book on preaching is the best book I have ever read on what you are talking about.

    We almost stopped by today, but were in IR at 5:00. coming from Wisconsin.

  3. That is a gutsy post. Your journey is one that many of us go through. When we do the hard work of digging, it's hard not to show everyone all the sand (or even other jewels). When I did my doctoral work with Haddon Robinson, was when I really worked through being willing to use a bullet and not buckshot.

    Of course, I'm still working on this.

    I find that one of the things that makes it such a challenge is that people are so different. Some would thrive on every exegetical detail. Others quickly fall behind at that pace.