I’ve been thinking a lot about sermons lately. While it might seem strange to spend time thinking about for most people, preparing and delivering messages (teachings, sermons, or whatever we happened called them) was a huge part of my life from 1989 until about 2012. In 2012 we moved from Ithaca to Dublin, and sermons became a thing I only occasionally do. But knowing that we were eventually going to be part of planting a church again, I spent a good deal of time over since we got here re-thinking sermons. What role should they play in the church? Should they be the main thing in the main event of the week? Who should speak? What does preparation look like?
Since we are in the early stages of planting the Table, I’ve begun putting some of these ideas in place and wanted to write down some of my thinking. My goal is to write at least 5 posts (rather than one really long essay). So while I used to preach sermons series, now I’m writing a series about sermons. and I’d love feedback, thoughts or questions you have.
To make sense of how I’m processing this, I’ll start with a bit of my history.
In the 1980s, I was getting a degree in Human Resources and realised I hated it during my senior year. I had one professor tell me I should be an economist and another a sports journalist. Both would have been better fits, as they remain topics that I love. However, as a 21-year-old, I figured it was too late and didn’t have the year or two it took to switch majors. Bad decision. Oh well.
After graduating, I began to think about university ministry. My plan was to find a “real” job and then help out with a campus ministry on the side. But I needed some training so that extra year I didn’t have turned into a year-long internship through my local church. Of course, part of the internship was learning to preach.
The first time I spoke at our campus ministry, back in 1988, I had to lean on a piano the whole time because my legs were shaking. I spoke at one of our church’s Sunday night services a few months later. And although I was able to stand unassisted, I went through 45 minutes of notes and a whole chapter in 1 Corinthians in about 15 minutes. I usually talk fast, but that was crazy. (afterward, a woman came up and gave me a sheet of paper with notes she had taken on all the ways I could have improved.)
Over the next couple of years, I spoke at our campus ministry and occasionally at the church I was part of. Then something important happened. As I’ve mentioned recently, I had a lot of opportunities to travel to other churches and speak. The key benefit of this was that I got to practice. I could write a sermon and use it at several different churches. I could learn what connected with people and what didn’t. I could try out things to see what fit for me and what didn’t. And it allowed me to practice relating to a congregation. And it really helped me to get over the nervousness around speaking publicly as I gained confidence.
Habakuk and Ester were my two go-to sermons during those years. And while I tend to speak out of the gospels much more now than I did back then, those sermons helped me move away from 3 point sermons and instead focus on narrative preaching…learning to tell stories (this will be something I’ll talk about in a later post).
So, here we are. It is 9 years since I’ve preached regularly. Do I miss it? Sometimes. Sometimes I miss it a lot. But, what I know for sure is that however we land this at the Table, it will look very different than it did before. And I believe that is a good thing.