I have a confession to make. I don’t think preaching works. Now before you reach for a rock, physical or cyber, hear me out. Traditional preaching doesn’t and won’t work in the new world. I’m a pastor and therefore the ‘sermon’ is a huge part of what I trained for, prepare and deliver on a weekly basis.
Hours of my life are invested into the art and craft of sermon. Some weeks I work twenty hours, if you asked me two weeks later what I preached on then you’ll get the same look a rabbit has in the shining of a hunter’s spotlight. Clueless. You may think I have diminished or damaged brain capacity. Let me ask you what was the topic of the sermon two weeks ago? What was the main message? Last week? Yesterday?
In some instances a sermon sticks, mostly not. In the last year I’ve asked people to retell the ‘best’ sermon they’ve ever heard. An interesting mixture of responses, a hard question – the searching for an answer I encountered was interesting in itself.
When I think how many times I’ve stressed about a sermon it shames me. Will they like it? Me? Will they think it’s funny? Will they think I’m smart? Will they think I’m the best?
An endless barrage of self-obsessed trivialities, wasting time and energy. An obsession. These questions are often greeted after the sermon with a ‘good sermon’, ‘thanks for the sermon’, ‘that was really nice’.
Is that what it’s all about? The sermon accepted, processed, a nice peace of rhetoric worthy of a compliment and then we get on with the real business of finding a good Sunday meal to fill our tummies. I can’t do it anymore! Being like a dog in a show every Sunday I mean.
In the modern system of church the pastor is truly on show every week. Ask your friends why they go to their church and more often than not you will get a response linked to the person of the pastor. ‘Our pastor is an amazing teacher’ or ‘our pastor dresses so cool’ ‘our worship pastor is the best’. When the pastor stops performing or develop spiritual acne they move on…. Searching for a better show-dog.
Most of our worship services are nothing more than verbal rape. Not an environment of dialogue with God oh no! It’s on average a forty minute speech a stream of verbal diarrhea from a single individual. Weird!
One of my friends is joining the Anglicans in America. His first invitation to deliver a sermon was prefaced with these refreshing words: ‘The sermon is not about you, so don’t use it as a platform to promote yourself and don’t take all the time – there should be room for people to commune with God’. I love it! My friend’s Anglican buddies don’t believe the sermon to be central to the service. For them God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is central. A noble idée, especially when we look at the epistemology of the word sermon.
The word sermon comes from the Latin serere – to link together. What do we link together? I think for too long we have linked the cerebrum of the speaker with the same of the listeners. Creating a horizontal link between people the result is a deification of the speaker hence the huge premium people place on the preachers. I think this link; to use a common expression will always be ‘the weakest link.’ The Anglicans have it right that the worship service should be a link between us and the God we worship. The sermon serves as a bridge of communication, opening hearts and minds to the God of story, history, poetry and all forms of communication.
In this form of communication there should be listening and responding, silence and the pouring out of words – a rhythm facilitated by the sermon.
What will happen if the service becomes a linking together?
How many times have we smothered the dynamic and scary proposition of puny people talking to the Life Giving Link?
These days services are planned way in advance – not wrong in itself. Yet so many times we cut the dialogue portion of the service in favor of the monologue. We exchange breathing with God for partly polluted rhetoric. When I preach and everyone else for that matter we’re partly polluted. The mystery is that God use us, pollution and all. We have a facilitating role to play, but for God’s sake let us not monopolize!