The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Myth 7: A sermon is the output of a mechanical process.
Following on from the last myth, here’s another:
7. A sermon is the output of a mechanical process
Almost every preaching textbook offers a sequence of steps that lead from the text to the pulpit. Some books use seven, eight or ten, others perhaps fourteen or more. The number is not the point. The sequence of steps can give the impression that you put the Bible text in at one end of the machine, crank on the handle and out pops a good biblical sermon.
A. There is a logical preparation process for a sermon. While there may be different labels used in the various processes, there is also a logic to the process. You have to select a passage before you can study it and determine its idea. You have to understand the passage before you can think about formulating a sermon. And so, at one level, the process is necessary. Just as it is necessary to learn the basic skills and sequences for driving a car, so the textbooks give us a helpful breakdown of the sermon preparation process. However, after driving a car for a quarter of a century, I am no longer repeating to myself “mirror-signal-maneuver” like I did at the start. I’ve learned that driving is about much more than basic skills and sequencing.
B. Sermon preparation requires multi-directional sensitivity. To push the driving analogy further, I could say that driving requires multi-directional sensitivity – I have to be aware of dozens of things at once. To fully describe what is going on in a mature and skilled driver would overwhelm every beginner. The same is true in preaching. The preacher needs to develop multiple levels of sensitivity to the text, to the listeners, to the Spirit of God, to the occasion, to the church where the sermon is delivered, to the culture in which the listeners live, to the acoustics of the venue, to the influence of proxemics on the delivery, to the body language of the listeners, to his/her own strengths and weaknesses as a preacher, to baggage in his/her own life that may be influencing the preaching, to the clock, and more.
There is no machine that will generate the right sermon for you and your listeners for this Sunday. What there is is a preacher prayerfully relying on God and seeking to bring together every skill learned and sensitivity developed to make this sermon the best it can be. You may rightly say that another preacher could be more skilled and more sensitized than you are, and that therefore you are a weak option for your church this Sunday. Good. God loves to work through the weak. Let’s give it the best we can and know that God has got to come through again!