Thursday, September 10, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
Pink notes? Memorized? Yahoo???
All ministers have people say to them, “How do you get ideas for your sermons?” or “How do you get up there and speak in front of people?” Every minister has his or her answer I suppose, but all I can say is, “This is what I do.” If you’d be scared to death to preach, I would be intimidated by some (or most) of the jobs my members do.
The seminary or “God School” as we were known to students majoring in other things, teaches you how to prepare a sermon, starting with an examination of your Scripture passage in the original Hebrew and Greek. Then you have to make the background material come alive and create a sermon from it. This is an art, not a science, and some weeks I feel better about it than others.
One of the first exercises I had in this at “God School” taught me a lesson. I thought I had done a very credible job, but when I finished, our professor sent me a grade and a note. It said, “Great text indeed. B.” I was very disappointed. But all these years later, I think that it is always the text, not the preacher that deserves the compliment.
I have heard a great many sermons — some by magnificent preachers — and some, well, not so great. Having sat at the feet of some of the “greats” keeps me humble.
Most of us do not demand “great” preaching. I think what the church needs most is competent preaching. It does not have to be eloquent to be effective. But a good sermon, that is, a “considered sermon,” which is what my own tradition holds up as the ideal, seldom happens without work.
I say “seldom” because once or twice something has happened before church that makes me realize that what I had planned to preach about would be totally inappropriate.
You cannot preach, as I once planned to on a Sunday long ago, on “Why Christians Should be Joyful,” when news reaches the congregation during the Sunday school hour of a great tragedy involving one of the members.
But other factors come into play. We had a minister who wrote his sermons out in longhand on the back of those little pink notes that secretaries use to take down telephone messages. We kids would amuse ourselves during the long sermon (and it was long!), by counting the number of pages our minister used. We also maintained that he would sometimes reach the end and then start through the same sheets for a second round!
Our next minister preached from memory. His sermons were not extemporaneous, they were memorized, and delivered as one would recite a poem. They were wonderful, but everybody held their breath for fear he would forget, and one Sunday he did!
I am too nearsighted to follow the former method, and too inclined to “improve” what I had originally planned to practice the latter. So, when I am asked for a copy of my sermon, I really am not able to supply the request. One of the things that makes preaching real is that it is “in the moment” — if the Spirit blesses it. So trying to preserve preaching is rather like “lightning in a bottle.”
“So how do you get your ideas?” That is why preaching is easier the older you get. Life supplies the best illustrations. Yes, there are books and magazines full of sermon outlines and “canned” illustrations. There is even help to be gleaned from the Internet!
Sometimes reliance on these things comes out, as once when I heard a minister preach all about his visit to the Grand Canyon the previous summer and the majesty of creation to be seen there — when everybody in the room knew their pastor had not been anywhere near the Grand Canyon on his recent vacation!
Still, I am grateful for the help of books, friends, and yes, other preachers. But preaching can never be standardized. The main thing about a sermon is that it is composed for the particular congregation. There is always the interplay of minister and congregation.
After all, what would you think of a sermon downloaded from “Yahoo?”
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