I am writing a series on sermons. I’m reposting this one from a few years ago. (you can find others in this series here.)

Confession time.

I sometimes have difficultly visiting other church services. I’ll talk myself up before I go: “Don’t be critical. See what God says and don’t stress about the stuff you normally stress about.”

Where do you want people to go?
Where do you want people to go?

There are certain aspects I love. I enjoy worshipping with a group of people…regardless of the songs or the quality of musician (well, to a degree:). I can easily join in. 

Liz is occasionally distracted by the quality of the music… not because she is critical, but because she is a good musician. She recognises and appreciates good music. And certain types of bad music feel like nails on a chalkboard.

While there are some songs that wreck my head, my challenge is usually with the preaching. When I was preaching/teaching on a regular basis, I put a lot of effort into improving. I would read books about preaching and public speaking. I would listen to sermon podcasts of good speakers. When that was the role God had me in, I took it seriously. 

In the past several months, I’ve experienced one of my biggest preaching pet peeves a couple of times. The person is teaching. Everything seems fine. And then the speaker gets to the verse that the sermon has been building towards.

Now, it could be anything:

“Store up treasures in heaven,”
“Resist the devil and he will flee,”
“Build your house on the rock,”
“Build on the foundation, that is Christ Jesus,”
“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”

Those are all great biblical exhortations that we should definitely put into practice. But instead of explaining how this looks in practice, they get to their key phrase and then repeat it. 

Over and over and over and over. 

Almost as if they believe that if they say it enough times, people will understand what it means.

But that isn’t how it works. It isn’t how we learn. If your math teacher stood up and said: “A squared, plus B squared equals C squared.” They would correct. But if all they did for the rest of the class was repeat the formula over and over, no one would know what they were supposed to do with it. 

This should not come as a surprise, but we do not live in a biblically literate culture.

We do however live in a media literate culture.

I can write, “Yabba, Dabba, Do” or simply “Doh,” and I know that you are now thinking about two cartoon characters. You may even have a theme song running through your head.

There is no sense in lamenting the fact that most of us are more influenced by cartoons, movies, and 24-hour news channels than we are by scripture. But if you are going to teach in the church, you had better recognise that fact. 

Back to our speaker. While they may (one would hope), know what it means to “build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ,” what percentage of their congregation does? 

How many could define the word “disciple,” let alone go out and make some?

One thing that frustrates pastors are spending hours putting sermons together, and then nothing seeing change in the lives of the congregation.

If I told you “to build your house on the rock.” Or to build it on the foundation that is Christ Jesus. Do you understand what I mean? Would it become more clear if I repeated it several times? Would you want me to make up my mind? Jesus or rock? 

(And because of our media culture, I’m now thinking about making a Dwayne Johnson joke.)

What if I said instead, “Let’s take a couple minutes a dig into what Jesus means when it tells us to ‘build on the rock.’” 

And then continued with, “What are some practical ways that we can do this? I’m going to invite a few people from the church to come and share what this verse has meant for them and how it has impacted their lives/faith/etc.”

This doesn’t guarantee that life change happens. It does mean that people who have heard you now have a better idea of what you, and what Scripture means. They might even have some practical things that they can do to take the next steps. 

If you teach regularly in the church, know your listeners. If there are some who might not have a grasp of what you mean, instead of repeating yourself ad nauseam, take that time to explain what you mean. 

And if you are in a church where the speaker does something like this…ask. Not in a rude way, but rather with a desire to learn…” you made it seem like this was important, but I don’t understand…could you explain it to me?”

Clarity is a good thing.