I have been to church today and am not depressed”. (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Preachers often bear the burden of ensuring the happiness of others. As thinly guised jesters of the court, we juggle and dance and tell jokes and hope to keep our heads connected to our bodies at the end of each performance.
This seems less than ideal.
This week, I participated in a Regent College Pastor’s conference on Preaching. There was a strong emphasis in the main sessions on expository preaching reinforced by seminars on the importance of original language study (i.e. Greek and Hebrew) and sound exegetical method. All good stuff presented by gifted people in an environment of worship. Â (expository; exegesis)
And yet, I still feel something is missing. Strictly expository preaching can tend to isolate texts of scripture much like a verse by verse Bible commentary. And an over emphasis on original language study and exegetical method seems to limit access to the text, restricting its true meaning to scholars or some new priestly class.
If the great goal of preaching is to relay information concerning biblical texts, then a sole focus on expository approach with sound exegesis based on the historical/critical method is our best bet. If information exchange is the goal, then we need to focus on clear content, crisp outlines and well articulated learning outcomes. And the listeners should take notes . . .
But is this the goal of the sermon?
I believe that the sermon is first of all an act of worship. It is offered to God even before, and while, it is offered to people. It is not meant to be consumed like some piece of trivia intended to build our personal knowledge base. Â As an act of worship, we dare to speak about great mysteries in the presence of the One who is Other. In a very real sense, sermons are a way of praying – of wrestling with the mystery and learning to live with the tension of that which cannot be fully known.
I believe that the sermon is a community event. It lives and breathes and is formed and filled by the Spirit of God within the body of Christ. It is our collective abilities and experiences that enable us to engage the Bible as a community member – a living witness to the movement of God throughout the generations. I often come to the community at Southpoint with an ‘incomplete sermon’ trusting that input from the community will complete the sermon event.
I believe that the great goal of the sermon is encounter and transformation. Yes, good information is needed. But in the end, the sermon time is meant to bump us up against the mystery of God. These kinds of encounters tend to change us. We need to create wider margins in our worship time for this kind of encounter.
And I believe that the sermon time is not simply meant to make us all happy. I can not for long play the role of jester because, trust me, even Robert Louis Stevenson would be depressed with my dancing ability!
“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” (Romans 10)