I estimate that, over the past 50 years, I’ve probably heard about 5,000 sermons.
That, of course, makes me an expert on preaching.
That, and the fact that I’ve been preaching part-time, maybe every third or fourth Sunday, for a whole year now.
Oh, and maybe leaving preaching and going on to meddling in my blog for about nine years now.
I’ve found that I don’t do as well preaching from a script or from an outline as I do when just speaking from the heart. I’ve discovered that my audiences seem to listen, evaluate, and appreciate that more.
I’ve seen that funny isn’t always funny and sometimes the unintentional, spontaneous, earnest comment is more hilarious or touching or convicting than anything you can possibly plan to say.
I’ve experienced the attractive magnetism of the gospel, the Story; and I’ve experienced the repellent force of opinion expressed as if it were gospel. I’ve tried proving a point, and I’ve tried telling the Story.
I’ve learned that I can spend too much time preparing for a sermon and end up chasing rabbit trails and speaking too long.
I’ve accepted that short and bittersweet beats didactic and saccharine.
Your mileage may vary, of course.
So my only expert advice after one whole year of part-time preaching experience would be this:
Find what works for you as a minister of the gospel, and what works for your audience — whether you speak, write or live the gospel — and strike an effective balance between the two. You’re not going to reach everyone. Some will be drawn by the one who planted; another by the one who waters. God will give the growth. Reach as many as you can as well as you can without trying to strain too far beyond the gifts His Spirit has given you to do so.
Always make it clear when you are reading and relating scripture, and when you are expressing your opinion or interpretation. There’s nothing wrong with expressing an opinion or an interpretation and encouraging your audience to weigh what scripture actually says and come to their own conclusions. God wants us to meditate on His word and share our thoughts on it. But perceiving our own thoughts on it as equal to His word leads to presumptuous arrogance, and judgmentalism, and that pushes away those whom we would seek to draw closer to God. It might draw them closer to you or me as a minister if they strongly agree with some point we’ve made, but that’s not what we’re called to do.
Tell the Story. Tell it in its simplicity and beauty and exquisite poignancy. Tell it from your point of view. Tell it from scripture’s point of view. Tell it from any point of view you can comprehend. Tell it as if your life and soul depended on it. Tell it as if your audience’s lives and souls depend upon it. Never tire of telling the Story. Never apologize that it is, in fact, a Story — because that’s the way God wanted it told to us, and that’s the way He wants us to tell it to others.
Spend a moment at the table. It’s usually a prop that is always present. Whether you and your church family have just celebrated the supper at that table or are about to, it’s a reminder of the centerpiece of your worship together: Jesus Christ, Son of God, given and crucified; body and blood; life and death and life again. It’s at the heart of why we gather. Refer to it often, and lovingly, and meaningfully.
That’s pretty much what I’ve learned in a nutshell. It’s worth almost as much as one. You can’t expect too much from something that comes out of a nutshell, because most of what comes out of them is nuts.
So take it with a few grains of salt.
(I’ve found so far that most folks like salted nuts.)