American

Wisdom for the Preacher

Michael Peppard:

Lots to discuss here.

(1) Is Peppard’s analysis true?
(2) Are preachers too insensitive to the realities of the congregation?
(3) Do people choose churches on the basis of the preaching?
(4) What do you think of sticking to one text in Scripture?

From the pew, here’s what I want to yell at every preacher in the pulpit: You have no idea of the spiritual hunger out here. Almost every sermon is a missed opportunity.

When you look out at your congregation, no matter how small, if there is anyone between the ages of 18 and 55 out there, you need to imagine what they did to get to that pew that day. They fought the pressures of their work schedule, which for most of them is out of their control. They pushed back against the busyness of their children’s schedules. Perhaps they told their son or daughter that they’d need to be late to the soccer game because of church at 11:00, and that caused a fight not yet resolved. Perhaps their family had an argument that very morning about whether to go to church at all or make the drive to visit grandma instead.

And this is just a normal week, not to mention the ones where a job was lost, a friend imperiled, a roof leaked, a spouse hit bottom, a child pulled away, a parent fell ill, an injustice unrectified, a mortgage past due, a dream crushed, a business shuttered. This is not to mention the solitary soul that for indiscernible reasons just decided that day, after many years, to walk back through those doors and slip into the back pew. A still, small voice calling, a spirit welling up to new life within, waiting, hanging on every word from the pulpit, aching for a breath.

Then, moments later, strangled. The spirit quenched, the soul starved. The pew empty, the door shut.

For those who stay put, the mind wanders within minutes. Should have stayed home and worked on the roof. Could have avoided that fight with my son about soccer. Would have rather taken the day trip to visit those relatives. What will I eat for lunch.

Within minutes, you’ve lost us. But don’t just take my word for it. A recent study from the Pew Research Center demonstrates that the quality of sermons is the single most important factor in attracting people to church….

First, do no harm from the pulpit. Don’t ask for money. Don’t trivialize the moment by doing church announcements. Don’t ever be misogynistic. In fact, never demean anyone from the pulpit.

Choose one reading to bring to life. As the long-time professor of homiletics at Yale Divinity School, David Bartlett, once said, “A select few of the great sermons I’ve heard in my life were about multiple readings, but all of the worst sermons were.” If one of the day’s readings tells a story, you’re better off choosing that one. That’s what we remember best from the readings we just heard.

Stick to the basics. God loves us. Strive for justice. Ask for mercy, and grant it. Follow saintly examples.Tell a story or two. Activate our spiritual imaginations for those few minutes of the week.

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