I guess I typically preach about forty sermons a year and sermon preparation is part of my weekly routine. However, occasionally a passage comes along which brings home some of the key questions that preachers face but often remain in the background. This week, I’m preaching on Luke 17:20-37, as part of our sermon series in Luke’s gospel. Apart from the question of, ‘why did I pick these verses’ when I put the series together late last year I sit here confronted by a number of challenges:-
- How much exegetical information is helpful to the congregation? Too much information and people will find it hard to see the wood for the trees. Does it really matter who is taken and who is left? What difference does the choice of translation ‘the kingdom is within you / among you’ make? I am often struck from people’s feedback afterwards that many people assume preaching that makes frequent reference to particular verses in the sermon is ‘Biblical’ whereas sermons that make few explicit references to the text are seen as less so; despite the fact that many of the best expositions of the passage might be the ones which make fewer references.
- What are the key issues? In terms of the Luke passage, what is the kingdom of God and how does it relate to the Son of Man? And supposing I focus on the kingdom of God, what can usefully be said in the time available that doesn’t either tell people what they already know or become overly abstract and theoretical.
- What is God’s word to this congregation, though this passage? Preaching is about bringing God’s word to the congregation, it isn’t simply about exegesis, it is not teaching per se, nor about motivation or instruction, rather it carries a prophetic edge.
- How does this resonate in people’s lives? Most good preaching has some application to people’s lives; perhaps by reorientating them towards God, or transformation towards Christlikeness, or some practical steps in discipleship. Much of this is about what God does, through the Spirit, in the congregation but preaching ought to move and feed people. Perhaps, the sermon should be followed by questions and answers, or small group discussions that encourage people to apply the sermon to their own lives and the life of the church.
- Does my use of images help or hinder preaching? Most weeks I preach with a series of powerpoint images on the screen. [I try not to use powerpoint for bullet points, and don’t usually have words up except for the text of the passage as it is read]. Good images, like good preaching illustrations, help people to see the point being made. Bad images, like too many funny jokes, detract from the nature and purpose of preaching.
- Does thinking about the mechanics of preaching paralyse the sermon preparation process? Probably, but thinking about it occasionally might encourage my preaching to be exegetical rather than eisegetical, show a decent grasp of hermeneutics (even if that is not apparent to the congregation) and a prayerful desire to be an instrument that God can use.
Anyway enough questioning and analysis for one day, I’ve a sermon to write. For anyone interested, the sermon should be available by podcast next week, (go to itunes and search 'poynton baptist church').