April 2, 2020

The Evangelical Liturgy 14: The Sermon

wwAbout 98% of the Christian blogosphere is written by preachers about preaching, so I have to wonder how much I need to say on this point. In the past, I’ve done a brief series on “What’s Wrong With The Sermon?” Much of that would be appropriate here.

This post is particularly about the place of the sermon in the evangelical liturgy. The first thing I want to say is that the sermon must be prominent, but not dominate a service of worship. We are living in a time when preaching is experienced in extremes and balanced preaching is rare.

What is balanced preaching?

Appropriate length. Not too long (most anything past 25 minutes is in danger) or too short. (I heard a Catholic homily last week that clocked in at just under 5 minutes.)

Law and Gospel, sin and grace, exposition and application and so on. There are many of these balances that, while not always present in every sermon, are importance to consider in every sermon, and important to consider over the long whole of a preacher’s ministry.

Personal and objective. Popular preaching today- with a few exceptions- tends to be dominated by the personality and personal life of the preacher. The long-term results of this in the life of Christians is bad, no matter how much people like it.

Biblical and illustrative. Biblical material needs to be illustrated with material close to the life experience of the congregation. Scripture itself demonstrates this and no one was a better practitioner than Jesus. The best preachers are skillful illustrators. Ravi Zacharias is a master of this.

Traditional and creative. Communication needs structure, but it also needs the freedom to go in an unexpected direction. Calvin and Lloyd-Jones are good examples of traditional approaches. People you may not want to admit you listen to may be great examples of creativity.

Lectionary and selected text. The lectionary is a fine guide, but a good preacher will use the “spaces” in the Christian year- ordinary time especially- to depart from the lectionary and address needed subjects.

Now, let’s go back to the place of the sermon in the evangelical liturgy.

In a service that uses frequent communion, the sermon will be early in the service, and I hope my evangelical friends will see the value of this. The sermon should come after the scripture readings, and it should not bear the burden of closing the worship gathering. (Invitationalism has done terrible things to much evangelical preaching, and none worse than making the sermon a 30 minute plea to walk forward.)

Some of you are going to wince here, but getting rid of the pulpit was a bad idea. In fact, I can’t think of a single change in architecture that says more negative things about worship than the removal of the pulpit, or replacing it with a clear plastic podium. The desire to make worship into non-worship was facilitated more by the removal of the pulpit than anything else. All the “barrier between the pastor and the congregation” rhetoric is specious.

The pulpit speaks of the centrality and importance of the Word of God proclaimed, and it relativizes the preacher into a proper place: disciplined and called to stay behind the Word. Harness the personality to the Word. The preacher stalking the stage with an open Bible is a scene out of balance: the preacher and his personality are overly emphasized. The Word is literally being “used” by the preacher before our eyes.

I recently read a Roman Catholic priest’s letter to his congregation explaining the valuing of making the service ad orientum, i.e. with the priest facing front rather than facing the people. He listed several liturgical reasons, but he was doing all he could to say one thing without actually saying it: Look what making the minister the central focus has done in Protestantism/evangelicalism!

He is right, and many evangelical churches will never have a balanced and disciplined liturgy because the church must be the preacher’s stage.

A few words of practical advice:

Series are over-rated and over done. The single text message is still a good idea. The copying of series ideas- SEX!!- has become absurd. Congregations should be suing ministers.

Use a text. Explain a text. Illustrate a text. Apply a text.

Preaching robes are a fine idea for evangelical ministers. Obviously not for everyone, but they are a good middle ground between showing off a suit and being so casual that worship leading seems almost inappropriate.

Have someone identify your characteristic grammatical, rhetorical and homiletic problems. Then work on them.

Use a Trinitarian blessing at the end of the message.

Transitions to and out of the sermon make liturgy flow. For example, I’ve used the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed as a transition out of the sermon for many years.

Don’t talk about your sermon preparation. Nothing shouts self-importance more than “I spent 30 hours pouring over this text.” And if you claim “the Holy Spirit changed my mind at the last minute,” I tend to think something else entirely is going on.

Don’t invest a single sermon with so much importance that it drives you to distraction. Relax. Enjoy the text.

Stop listening to the preachers that tend to make you want to preach, sound or look like them. Just stop. Driscoll could start a clothing line and make millions off his fanboys.

Listen to preachers who challenge you in areas where you need to grow. I listen to Willimon and Zahl. I’m nothing like either. I want to be like both.

Instead of listening to all those mp3s of Keller and Driscoll, read some books by some practitioners. Read Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching. Read Craddock. Read Buttrick. Read Inductive Preaching by Lewis. Read Clyde Fant’s book on developing an oral manuscript. Read Stott. Read Lloyd-Jones, On Preachers and Preaching. Anything by Willimon or Capon, The Foolishness of Preaching. Those books will help you more than sermons.

You aren’t and never will be Spurgeon. He had a lot of bad habits. Remember that popular preachers get by with things you won’t get by with.

Read Luther’s House Postils. Great examples of evangelical preaching in a pastoral context.

Don’t seek to be loved as a preacher. That’s the biggest mistake I’ve made in life and ministry. Seek to be loved as a shepherd, pastor, leader and above all, fellow pilgrim. Better yet, just seek to love others and look past assessments of your popularity. Have an audience of one and a flock to feed and serve.

You should, if you are truly called and prepared, be able to put together a good talk in a couple of/few hours. If it takes you 25 hours to create a sermon, I am deeply suspicious of what you are up to and why. Did your people call you to live in the study?

I could write pages on this, but this is enough. Questions in the comments are very welcome.


  1. Regarding your last point: isn’t sermon prep time a little bit like lesson planning? And in that respect, isn’t it going to take a lot longer for a your preacher/teacher to prepare than one who has stood behind the pulpit for thirty years? I’m not suggesting a sermon be a graduate research paper, by any means. But those of us who are new to the discipline are going to be slower, and I think churches need to give young preachers the time they need to prepare something worth listening to.

    • I don’t know Mike. Prep time will vary for pastors. But I am a bit suspicious when half a work week or more goes into prep time too. I think pastors would do better, looking at the text, and then visiting with their sheep. And don’t take the manuscript into the pulpit. Write one. then outline it. preach from the outline. But I am with Michael here, 25 hours means you have nothing to say. You probably don’t have anything to say because you have been locked in a closet all week.
      Personally, I read the text, spend the rest of the week reading other things, visiting, and otherwise doing what not. By the end of the week I have something to say. Prayer and devotions are crucial too.

      • Why not?


      • But I am with Michael here, 25 hours means you have nothing to say. You probably don’t have anything to say because you have been locked in a closet all week.

        HUGE AMEN: I have no idea what my pastor is up to , sermon preparing and ‘administrating’, I suppose. I am weary of words from a friendly guy who is essentially a stranger to me. Sorry if this comes across negative, cynical, and cranky, but you pastors out there: say “NO” to some things, and mix it up with the sheep. Too many pastors just live and die by their sermon, something is seriously wrong here.

        • Sorry if this comes across negative, cynical, and cranky, but you pastors out there: say “NO” to some things, and mix it up with the sheep.

          Or, as C. S. Lewis puts it, “The proper study of shepherds is sheep, not (save accidentally) other shepherds.”. I’d also suggest his article “On communication” and suggest that you’re going to have to spend time with the sheep if you’re going to understand how they communicate well enough to make your sermon speak clearly to them.

          • I could live with a blend of the two (other shepherds and sheep) IF studying the first helped with pastoral care of the second. It’s not only the activity of studying other pastors, but the time spent in some kind of false ‘preacher’s world’, apart from (higher than ???) the regular folks. This is what sticks in my throat. I don’t see it in the lives of Paul, Peter, and Barnabas, etc. They were KNOWN by their audience.

    • Correct! A tip: my leadership gives me one or two weeks per year to drop out of sight and do some series prep. I can dig out several outlines and do lots of background work, cutting the week in week out prep time down and freeing me up for other important pastoral work.

  2. Well you said a mouthful, and I think I agree with all of it.
    Pulpit. I like the pulpit. Someone told me once that it was introduced to the liturgical furniture by Chrysostom, old Golden Mouth. Now I have people, fellow pastors, arguing that you can’t connect to the congregation from the pulpit. I tend to think that if you can’t connect with them from the pulpit, it says more about your preaching then the pulpit. Chrysostom might be the best preacher the church ever had, that he recommended, or at least used the pulpit, says volumes.

    • At the risk of sounding like an ignoramous, which my wife says I am anyway, I am afraid to say I have little to know knowledge to who Chrysostom is.

      Just another reason I get frustrated when I realize I have been locked in the evangelical closet all these years.


      • St. John Chrysostom was an early church father who lived in the 4th-5th centuries.



      • FollowerOfHim says


        Never feel guilty here about asking such a question!. We’re all here to learn and grow! (I’ve learned so much myself in just the past few weeks.)

        The standard liturgy of the Easter Orthodox Churches is actually the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his Easter (Pascha) sermon is traditionally read aloud at the (midnight!) Easter service.

        It’s also well under 25 minutes. Even in Greek or Slavonic.

      • Austin,
        We all have something to learn, and are all ignorant of something. Chrysostom was a preacher, beloved in Constantinople, his name means Golden Mouth. He had the ability to sway crowds, and was exiled a couple times for using it. That often happens with men of conviction.

    • Carolyn Howard says

      I too like the pulpit. A minister prancing back and forth rattles my nerves after a while and I lose
      interest in the sermon. And after about 25 minutes, I’m lost if the minister jumps from scripture to scripture trying to make a point and expect the congregation to keep up flipping pages in their bible. I attend church to hear the word, not to flip through 10 different scriptures and not to
      see the minister model his/her suit, robe, etc.

  3. If it takes you 25 hours to create a sermon, I am deeply suspicious of what you are up to and why

    Thank you.

    It’s gotten to where I feel guilty about saying how long (or short) it takes me from study start to outline finish a sermon. I expect people think I’m being lazy if I’m not Moleskining for 30 hours or up late on Saturday night.

    • It is a SIN to be up late prepping on a Saturday night! OK, a little overstated, but you get the point.

    • Bonus points with iMonk for your creative use of Moleskin as a verb.

      • It is spelled Moleskine and pronounced mole-uh-skee-nuh. I know, because, being from the backwoods, I had to look it up in a Google search (note that I did not make google a verb) after seeing it in a young, reformed, restless blog. Took some doing to make it a verb.

  4. But about this 25 minutes malarkey . . . 😉

    • Jared: I am enjoying “Your Jesus Is Too Safe.” Just saw your reference to Strongbad…laughed a lot.

      I also think that every preacher has a length of sermon that is their “default.” Mine is 25-35 minutes.

      Let me also say that I will stand in the minority and defend those preachers who spend a significant amount of time in the biblical text every week. I am not a fan of digging a tunnel from the study to the pulpit, but doing the biblical text justice takes significant time and energy. To me, failing to perform my due diligence as a student of Scripture is failing to have a meal for the congregation every week. Woe to those shepherds who do not feed the sheep (or feed them junk food)! (Ezek 34 comes to mind)

      Is it a sin for a pastor to work from his own translation of the text, to study it in depth and read the literature concerning what the message the author was conveying to his original audience? Is it wrong to then spend considerable reflection on how that applies and interacts with a modern world? I think it is not; rather, I think that too many pastors get buried in visits out of obligation and skimp on significant interaction with the biblical text.

      The key IMO is balance.

  5. “(Invitationalism has done terrible things to much evangelical preaching, and none worse than making the sermon a 30 minute plea to walk forward.)”

    A thousand “Amens” to this. After a prolonged absence from church, I attended an evangelical service with some old friends. The sermon committed many of the sins above, but the most egregious, IMNSHO, was the standard invitation after a sermon that at best only lightly touched upon the gospel and certainly did not lend itself to a clear reason for coming forward.

    I’d like to see invitationalism die a swift, ignomious death. It’s manipulative, breeds a faith centered around subjective, sermon-based experiences, and does nothing to mature the body’s faith.

    And while I agree the maximum length of a sermon should be strictly and cautiously watched, I don’t think there’s a minimum. I think in some ways, the perfect sermon could be someone – frankly, anyone with the conviction to mean it for themselves and the congregation – simply saying “Love your neighbor as yourself” a couple of times with earnest, honest energy, then stepping away.

    Finally – at least finally for this post – I don’t think it can be overestimated how much evangelicalism and fundamentalisms have become cults of personality, based on the senior pastor and sermon. Far too much importance and emphasis is placed on the speaker and the speech. In the last couple of years, I’ve come full circle to really appreciate the liturgy of the denomination of my youth (Episcopal). It can be dry and dull at times, true. But it also helps take the focus off the humans “leading” the service, and it gives us a structure on which to build our worship experience – a structure based not on emotional or spiritual high of the moment, but on doctrinal and spiritual truths.

    The service I mentioned earlier was simply worship songs and a sermon; that was it. Even the offertory was out – they now do it online! But it really exposed the evangelical model as dangerously unbalanced and utterly dependent on the personalities on stage.

  6. I have a lot of problems believing things like pulpits, which didn’t enter into church for hundreds of years after the resurrection are as central as you’re making them out to be.

    • Dan Allison says

      I’m not sure he meant the pulpit should be “central.” Rather, the pulpit is a tool that keeps the pastor, and his performance and personality, from becoming central.

      • To help keep the central things central, how is this for a slogan to preach by? “We take the WORD of God and the SPIRIT of God to do the WORK of God in the PEOPLE of God.”

      • I wrote “as central” not central. Perhaps I should have used “essential”.

        Frankly, I don’t understand what people think they do. They’re supposed to suppress the personality of the preacher to let the word shine through?

        I guess if that’s part of your culture and what you want, then go for it. But pretending its some efficacious for anything but that is silly.

        How does a pulpit keep central things central? Many of these gospel+somethingelses (as in YEC in Imonk’s post just before this) arose when pulpits were in 95% of churches. Check out the pissing pastor, he’s got a nice big pulpit right up front. Every single church I’ve been to that has sunk into nationalism as gospel has a pulpit. Virtually every single main line denominational church that has drifted from the gospel has had pulpits.

      • T:

        Before you spend too much time on the evils of pulpits, realize that at least 500+ years of Protestant preaching- including every major name you can think of previous to probably 1990- used a pulpit.

        If you don’t get what I’m talking about, fine. If you haven’t seen what the removal of the pulpit has done to preaching don’t let me disturb your impression.

        The pulpit is a symbol that Protestants used to understand. They didn’t ask, “What it be more effective communication to walk the aisles?” That wasn’t the question.


        • Imonk,
          I never said they were evil.

          Just that they were decoration, no different from any other piece of art that has decorated churches through the centuries.

          • T,

            Sometimes pulpits can keep a preacher in his place. At one parish, he didn’t use it, but wandered up and down all 3 aisles during the whole talk. Drove me crazy.

        • Yeah, I’m not sure I’m following your pulpit argument, either. Your comment about the Catholic priest facing away from the congregation as an effort not to draw attention to the preacher seems to fly in the face of having the preacher ascend into a pulpit to look down upon the humble masses. At the same time, having the pastor come down into the congregation to be among them as a fellow brother in Christ is considered an artifice.

          Seems to me like you’re arguing against your own position here while trying to have it all ways.

          Sorry, despite my Lutheran roots, I say that if you want to draw less attention to the preacher and elevate the Lord and His Gospel while reinforcing that the pastor is one of us, the best way to do that is to lose the pulpit.

          I think the best messages given in my old Lutheran church were the ones when the pastor would sit on the front steps leading up to the altar and invite all the children up to sit with him for the children’s sermon. Pulpit indeed!

          • I’ll throw in my 2 cents. I used to attend a Lutheran church with a pastor that took the pulpit seriously. It wasn’t high enough, he said, so he asked an in-house carpenter to make it higher. This was done. The pastor clearly enjoyed climbing the stairs to he pulpit, a place of lofty splendor, the lone orator a kind of hero on high. I have never know na more egotistical, look-at-me preacher than that fellow in the pulpit. In other words, the pulpit did nothing at all to distract our attention from the man preaching. Quite the opposite. An egotistical ham will demean a pulpit very quickly.

          • Being Lutheran, I can’t resist wading into this.
            The pastor is not supposed to be one of you when he is preaching. He inhabits an office that is separate from the priesthood of all believers. He isn’t mumbling his own opinions, at least he shouldn’t be. He is proclaiming the word of God, Law and Gospel. Pulpits are good for reinforcing that notion.
            Pulpits can be, and have been abused. and the notion that the pastor is inhabiting a separate and distinct office can become an excuse for him to play holier than thou, or better than you. But I have seen men play that game from the isle too. In fact I have seen a lot more arrogance ooze off the chancel prancer then I have from the pulpit pastor. But that is maybe just my experience. I’ve seen a couple arrogant ones in the pulpit too.

    • “Central?”

      Again, I’m looking at the evangelical liturgy. If someone is doing the usual contemporary worship service then nothing I’ve written in this series is particularly germane. I’m not imposing the pulpit into someone’s seeker service. Nor am I saying it is “central.” I am saying that in an approach to worship that appreciates liturgy and the presence of various parts of the worship space, a pulpit serves an important purpose.

      And what does when something was added have to do with anything? We aren’t in first century Palestine and I don’t think we’re obligated to try and imitate a 1st century house church.



      • Nor are we in pre-1990 Evangelicalism and I don’t think we’re obligated to imitate that either. You made the argument that its been there for 500 years, so its awesome, which is at least a cousin of the “when it came in” argument. I’m just pointing out I don’t see much correlation either way for it. If you want it, fine, if not, its no different than removing or adding a painting.

        I can see I’m getting under your skin in a bad, non-constructive way.

        Have a great week, I really appreciate the vast majority of what you write.

        • “…so its awesome…”

          This isn’t what I said at all. I don’t normally say this, but you may not be reading me correctly. Consider reading what I said on this subject with a little less implied “awesomeness” on my part.


          • I simply used that as shorthand for “does good things”.

            DSY got that same impression.

            If that’s wrong, then I apologize.

          • ROFL!!! imonk for some reason this comment really cracked me up… just had to let you know… mebby it is partly your avatar in the corner.. I don’t know.. but thanks for the laugh.

  7. One way to help with the personality of the preacher thing, is to have a shared pulpit, if possible. If two or three voices all speak into the people with roughly the same convictions about the major things, there will be more of a focus on Gods voice as opposed to the star preacher.

    • Hooray for this…..this also helps wean some folks off of Pastor ___ as being THE GUY to speak God’s word to us; it’s also a loud commercial for multiplication in action. Pastor’s need to get over the bias of many that if it’s not the SR pastor speaking, then it’s somehow substandard. BALONEY.

  8. In regards to the 25 minutes prep, it depends on what they are preparing.

    Scot McKnight wrote last week,

    “Today’s evangelicals pastors are enamored with the latest book on leadership, like that morsel of an idea in the book called Tribes, or the latest book on management, or the latest fad in creativity.
    These are often pastors who, if we were to ask them what is in some Old Testament book or some chapter in Ephesians, to take two soundings, would not know what we were talking about….So let me say this: (too many) evangelical leaders have become too enamored with management skills and techniques and have neglected the nitty-gritty of soaking themselves in the great texts of the Old and the New Testament.”

    So if the pastors are spending that time preparing a quality message, I have no problem with that. I would, in fact, welcome it.

    • sorry, that should say 25 hour prep.

    • I think “soaking yourself in the word” all week long and 25 hour sermon prep are not at all the same thing, and I don’t think iMonk or any of those who seconded him were suggesting that the “couple/few hours” spent on sermon prep, or the reading of the text once at the beginning of the week and then spending time pastoring should be all the Bible reading/studying the pastor should do.

      There is a vast difference between spending time in the Word expecting God to speak to me concerning my life, my sin, my growth, my weaknesses, etc., and researching and writing a sermon.

      • “I think “soaking yourself in the word” all week long and 25 hour sermon prep are not at all the same thing, and I don’t think iMonk or any of those who seconded him were suggesting that the “couple/few hours” spent on sermon prep, or the reading of the text once at the beginning of the week and then spending time pastoring should be all the Bible reading/studying the pastor should do.”
        Right! On this, Wolf Paul, you and I agree. I spend a lot of time reading the Bible. Make a point to read through it at least once a year. There are Bible Studies, visits, study time in general. All the while the text for sunday is mulling around in your heard consciously, or subconsciously. Then you look at it again, and it speaks. It applies to situations your parishoners are in etc.

  9. Dunker Eric says

    I think some other important areas to balance are to include preaching for new believers as well as people who’ve heard thousands of messages, and include preaching for those who need simple language as well as those who appreciate some intellectual challenge.

    It depends on the audience of course, but I think preaching needs to reach beyond ‘the lowest common denominator’.

    • This is a fantastic point. Of course, depth of the sermon will be limited by the depth of the preacher. And this depth may not be spiritual depth. Some pastors are just plain smarter, and they will be better able to stimulate smarter people than less naturally gifted pastors. But every preacher can get better, by being curious about the world, by getting to know himself (there is a LOT to this), and by growing in the Word. And one more potentially painful thing, and therefore avoided by most: by getting honest feedback.

  10. On the issue of sermon length it tends to be indirectly proportional to the time available for preparation. Mark Twain, once closed a letter saying, “I apologize for the length of this letter, I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.” One of the keys to both effectiveness and brevity is the time to edit, reread, and edit again. 25 hours strikes me as a bit much for the whole process, but for a 20 minute target time. Probably no more then 6 hours of actual work would be about right – spaced over 2 to 3 days.

  11. I’m one of those guys who in the past (and during the present, at times) spent an inordinate amount of time on sermon prep. I think the biggest thing that has changed in these past few years is the amount of “personal” time I’ve spent both in prayer and Scripture. As I’ve spent more and more time personally studying Scripture for my own edification and prayerfully seeking to apply it I’ve spent less and less time prepping.

    Bror said if you spend that much time “you have nothing to say” and I agree. I didn’t have much to say because the Word wasn’t affecting me personally. Once I began to study Scripture outside the prep time then it became much easier to go to a text and preach it.

    I think my obsession came from thinking that you had to say and know absolutely everything about a certain passage before you could faithfully preach it…and so instead of saturating myself in the Word I tried to garner knowledge for a sermon.


  12. Preaching when it is done right, and i’m not going to try to define that, is simply sublime. Sublime to listen to, sublime to deliver. When it’s done poorly it is painful.

  13. On the 25 minute delivery, I do agree with that idea.

    To go longer than that means that one is leaving out other elements of the service (discussed earlier in this series), and it does mean you are assuming an attentive congregation. Like it or not, the attention span is limited.

    Likewise, since people only remember a certain percentage of sermons, and only 1 or 2 items from those sermons, to go longer may not be accomplishing what one thinks he/she is accomplishing.

  14. 1. I think that one of the problems in contemporary preaching is the temptation (one often given in to) of not so much preaching, as giving a learned religious discourse. The commandment is to preach the gospel (I’ve leave that sort of broadly defined) and that should be stuck to. The temptation to lectureship is also one of the causes of the 25 hours prep time.

    2. I have to disagree with you slightly about the lectionary. Barring the most grave of circumstances, I think it should be adhered to. I’m not arguing with those traditions that don’t use one, but for those who do, it forces the preacher to deal with texts he’d rather not deal with, and likewise is a hindrance to the hobby-horses all of us are inclined to ride when we’re able.

    3. Preaching is preaching and teaching is teaching, but I’ve come to believe that preachers must provide some instruction about the text. We live in a biblically illiterate society (amazing, given that almost everyone can read and afford texts) and without at least a modicum of instruction, lots of folks don’t know how a text fits in with the overall flow of the Bible message. Many will not attend Bible studies — we have to face that fact, and deal with it.

    • Jim: I think strict adherence to the lectionary is good, but not problem free. There are times another preaching/teaching agenda needs to be fit in This can be a welcome break from slavish adherence to the lectionary and allow a church to deal with topics and subjects that apply particularly to their mission.

      I’ve found that there is plenty of room to be devoted to the lectionary and still get in the topics that a church’s unique mission or make-up require.



    • The commandment is to preach the gospel (I’ve leave that sort of broadly defined) and that should be stuck to.

      While you give yourself some wiggle room with your paranthetical thought, I think you’re taking a command given to the priesthood of believers – that is, all of us, and constricting what those called to shepherd and lead can do with their positions.

      The sermon should not be restricted to endlessly rephrasing or presenting the gospel. It can, and should, be used to challenge us to reexamine our spiritual lives, to love our neighbors better, to reconsider what we take for granted and to remind us of the core, non-negotiable elements of the faith. It should also be one aspect of the service, not THE focual point or spiritual finale. With the emphasis on life-changing sermons and speaking style of the pastor, we lose the impact and importance of the other aspects of a worship (iMonk has been touching on them all in his series).

  15. BTW, you mentioned the Clyde Fant book on developing an oral manuscript. Would you happen to have the title of that book? I’m having trouble finding it.

  16. Listened to a 45 minute sermon yesterday. Wished it would have ended at 20. Not because the sermon was bad (great actually), but because the main point of the first 20 minutes got watered down with the 3 more points introduced in the last 25 minutes. This happens way to often in my experience.

    • I agree. Very few preachers are worth the 45 minutes of time invested in listening consistently. I was raised on the 45 minute exegetical verse-by-verse method, but I have recently discovered 20 minute homilies. They are amazingly clear, moving, too the point, and waste no time whatsoever.

  17. Do you all suppose this applies to preaching to youth groups as well? Is 25 minutes a good approximate length or should it be shorter for younger attention spans?

  18. i don’t know how many of you have had the pleasure of traveling for a while in IFB circles (independant fundie baptist) circles for any length of time, but I have and they are eaten up with the cult of the personalities

    i can remember when I was a child, thankgoodness my parents had better sense, but when a big name preacher came thru other children would be encouraged to line up after church and have this man autograph their bibles, i swear if they made trading cards some of these folks would have collected them, folks would travel 200 miles to a campmeeting to hear their favorite preacher but would not walk across the road to minister to a needy neighbor

    secondly, if i ever become Anglican or any other denomination with an episcopal type govenrannce with bishops and such it will be because of the type of thing i’m about to share with you

    baptist preachers are sort of like gunslingers, once they get a church to licnesen them, a step many are skipping now days, and certainly once they are ordained, they are sort of like lone wolves sometimes, they answer in reality to almost no one, it has it perks sure, but is it healthy

    for instance, and this is first hand, a young aquantaince of mine recenlty got his first pastorate, he felt somewhat obligated ( a different story) to ask an older preacher in the community to preach for him b/c this guy had asked him many times when he was just starting out, the man gets up and precedes to give 10 minutes of jokes about his recent colonoscopy, then procedes to blast blacks who might want to come to his church, and then says that and I quote “if homosexuals (he used another word) want to come in your church everybody here should bring guns and stand outside” to my young friends credit, after about half the church had walked out (to their credit) he said if anyone showed up and wanted to hear the gospel they were welcome

    if this guy had a bishop they could come smack him around, i’m just not sure, other than shunning, what recourse baptist have

  19. One thing that draws out some of the sermons, at least in some contemporary churches, is the attempt at creativity through some video illustrations, musical presentations, etc… in the lead-up, or in the midst, of the sermon.

    I sat through a sermon yesterday that twice, in parts of the sermon, brought in scenes from a certain movie to emphasize some points. However, the pastor still did not seem to cut back on his speaking portion, which of course just made the whole time much longer than it needed to be.

  20. You nail a lot of good things here. One of my favorite sentences is “Use a text. Explain a text. Illustrate a text. Apply a text.”

    The other sage advice is to get rid of the idea of having people love you as a preacher…. great wisdom in that!

    If we all did that consistently, our congregations would be well served!

  21. Jonathan Hunnicutt says

    First I should remind myself that these are rules of thumb, and pretty good ones at that.

    I’m not with you on the pulpit, but you make a good case. All preaching should come from the scripture, agreed. I see how the pulpit can symbolize this better.

    I’m bugged by the 25 minutes. I’m suspicious that it’s almost the exact time of a sitcom. On one level, it’s what they taught us in seminary, and for those of us who come from 40+ minute traditions, it forces us to get to the point. All sermons need good pruning. In a creative writing class in college, I learned to “kill my darlings” to get rid of those phrases and points that I loved, but which took away form the main point. Also with 25 minute sermons, you can do a one point sermon, but a really elaborate one point sermon. Preachers need to do more one point sermons. Make one point, make it well, and people might remember it.

    However, I must plead that different contexts and audiences require different time lengths. I had a friend who was working at a urban church plant which had two kinds of attenders: yuppies and homeless people. The yuppies always complained that the sermons were too long, because they were doing knowledge work all week. The homeless folks loved the intellectual stimulation from the longer sermons. What if you preach to a congregation that doesn’t get intellectual stimulation all week and loves it? Are we arguing for short sermons because we are knowledge worker-types.

    Also, what if the tradition demands a lot of build up and repetition like the African American tradition?

    Also, how can we combine passion and liturgy? Seriously, why are often the passionate preachers in the more loose traditions, but the liturgical preachers are dry? I know there are exceptions, but still. Why can’t we have passionate liturgy? I’m going to an Anglican church right now. The priests say while breaking the bread: “Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;” but says it with complete monotone as if he had said something as eventful as “Alleluia, I just buttered the bread.” It drives me batty. Just once, I’d like to hear a rousing Hallelujah as if Jesus dying for our sins was something to be joyfully thankful about. However if you have passion with out substance…you get the Todd Bently nonsense.

    • I don’t mean to pass judgement on this phenomenon but I will say that there are things to be said for monotonal, dispassionate recitation. Don’t mistake it for lack of sincerity or enthusiasm.

      I know legions of liturgical folks, myself included, who dislike any “personalization” in the recitation of liturgical prayers. The idea is that the presider should not inject his personality into the prayer – liturgy is the Church’s prayer, not his own or even the congregation’s. We value clear, precise, faithful but impersonal, almost robotic, speech. That is part of the reason why many people prefer a “sacred” language, whether it be Tudor English or Latin, as well as sung prayers and Scripture-reading. It goes along with the use of vestments, which are, in part, intended to reduce the individualism and personality of the presider. The whole “He must increase, I must decrease” thing…

      Just trying to give you the other side of the coin…

      • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

        In an age where preaching personalities dominate churches and subcultures, I see your point, but isn’t this the opposite extreme? Have we gotten so out of balance that these seem to be the other two options: enthusiastic personality vs robotic liturgy?

        Also, biblical texts have personality, shouldn’t our preaching try to reflect that a little? When we preach from Jeremiah shouldn’t we reflect some of his exasperation? When we preach from Paul shouldn’t we attempt to reflect whatever emotional state he was in?

        When 2 Cor 1 was read in church a few weeks ago, I was so disappointed. The personality of the reader certainly didn’t come through. But neither did Paul’s. That is a problem to me. We are Christians not Vulcans.

        • I agree, Jonathan. And, from reading the works of the NT writers, it’s pretty obvious that these people were filled with an intense passion for Jesus and the Gospel and that they didn’t hesitate to express that passion, whether it was within the context of the church or out in the secular world. And, from the Gospels, it’s plain that Jesus Himself was passionate about doing His father’s will, in His love for people, and in His anger at religious hypocrisy. And a lot of OT worship appears to be quite passionate and energetic, as well, as do the prophetic, heavenly worship scenes depicted in Revelation.
          This is just me (and I mean no offense to anyone), but, somehow, worshipping the King of Kings with deliberate dispassion seems like trying to communicate the beauty and awesomeness of the ocean by making cups of tea. But, then again, God judges our hearts, and if someone seeks to become less in order to magnify Christ by refraining from any outward show of emotion or personality, then that’s cool with me.

  22. What do we do with 1 Corin 14 where the ‘pastor’ is not central nor the pulpit:

    29Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

    This would stop a lot of cult of personality with pastors.

    • I would love to read some discussion on this. I struggle with matching up the modern role of “pastors” and “ministers” with what I see described in the New Testament.

      • I don’t think they do match up. You won’t find this position of pastor/orator/administrator/counselor/man-in-charge in the NT because it didn’t exist in the NT church. It’s pretty obvious from scripture (at least to me) that they split these things up according to each person’s spiritual gifts, so that when they gathered together, everyone could contribute something for the common good and edification of the church.
        As to why we departed from that simple formula and how things came to be the way they are now — well, that’s pretty complicated and to explain it adequately would require a detailed analysis of church history as a whole, as well as good bit of related political history. I’m not going to try to do that here (nor am I probably qualified to do that), but I definitely encourage you to research the matter for yourself. Though I will add this warning: Asking dangerous questions and doggedly pursuing their answers doesn’t go over very well in most religous circles. It’s not exactly the best way to make friends and influence people. But, if you’re like me, that’s not going to stop you. God bless and keep you, Clay.

        • Will Willimon’s book “Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry” goes into this some. I’m reading it right now. Very helpful and interesting.

  23. I’m not a pastor, just a person in the pew (or chair). PLEASE pastors, stop preaching after 25 minutes. It’s enough. If you have to, just have one point, not three. And, please, if you are one of the people that prays during the worship service, don’t make it a sermon. I come to worship, not just have my head stuffed with more knowledge. It’s not just the young that want shorter sermons, the elderly have trouble sitting for more than an hour.

  24. This post has more usable info than many seminars I have attended. Thanks for this. There may be a lot of sermon related writing on the internet, but is it practical, usable and relevant. Imonk, you hit all three. thanks.

  25. I think this is a great overview of the place and purpose of preaching in the service. We need to immerse ourselves in those practices that help us keep the Word as primary and us as secondary (in submission) to it. We need to the Holy Spirit to help us study and preach the word in faith and power but also in “foolishness” and “weakness”. There’s certainly a difference between the “foolishness of preaching” and being an ignorant preacher.

  26. Steve Newell says

    The purpose of the sermon and of the preacher is to point us towards Christ. Christ must be center of the sermon. I have heard many sermons that one could preach to Mormons, Muslims, etc and they would find the sermon to be a very good sermon. Why, there is no Christ Crucified being proclaimed.

    We can argue about the length of the sermon, where the pastor stands when he preaches. What is non-negotiable is that Christ must the center of the sermon.

    On the radio program Issues Etc., they have developed a simple tool to determine if a sermon is a Christian sermon:

    1. How often is Jesus mention?
    2. If Jesus is mentioned, is He the subject of the verbs?
    3. What are those verbs?

    It’s not a perfect tool, but it can be very helpful in helping you to look at the sermon.

    A “biblical” sermon is not necessarily as Christian sermon.

    • On the radio program Issues Etc., they have developed a simple tool to determine if a sermon is a Christian sermon:

      1. How often is Jesus mention?
      2. If Jesus is mentioned, is He the subject of the verbs?
      3. What are those verbs?

      It’s not a perfect tool, but it can be very helpful in helping you to look at the sermon.

      Not only is it an imperfect tool, it’s based on some very simplistic and rigid assumptions. This sounds suspiciously like people who would listen to contemporary Christian music and measure the JPMs (Jesus Per Minute).

      I find this need to label and categorize a sermons (or other expressions coming from avowed Christians) depressing and discouraging. There are good and bad sermons, effective and ineffective ones. But determining how “Christian” it is by how often the name of Christ is mentioned is a return to the Christian ghetto I left behind years ago and to which I won’t willingly return.

      I’d wager you could hear a message of some sort from a rabbi that would be more “Christian” than sermons from some ordained priests and ministers.

      • Steve Newell says


        If a sermon isn’t about Christ and what he had done for us and our sins, then why preach? You are not understanding the focus of the message is to be about Christ. If Rabbi preaches a sermon and there is no Jesus, then it’s not a Christian sermon. It is Christ who makes the sermon a Christian sermon.

        • If a sermon isn’t about Christ and what he had done for us and our sins, then why preach?

          We better throw out a lot of the Bible then, including Paul’s letters.

          Without the basics – which I’ll hand-wave and define as the Nicene Creed – you don’t have Christianity. But that doesn’t mean you have to always talk about the basics, define them every sermon, and never move on. Of course redemption and reconciliation are at the core of the Christian message, and should be underlying girders in a sermon. But to measure the worth of a sermon by how many times you actually say the name “Jesus” seems extremely arbitrary and Pharisaical.

  27. When I was a child, my family attended this Baptist church that featured a rather large pulpit that probably weighed half a ton. For about two years, the church had an interim pastor who was a very small man. He usually gave some very long-winded sermons but rarely ventured out from behind this massive piece of wood. And, unless you were sitting up in the balcony, you just couldn’t see the man. Needless to say, there were a lot of jokes going around about our miraculous, preaching pulpit.

  28. I’ve enjoyed the post and the responses. All seem to have some insight in parts. I think that with this subject, like all Biblical subjects, there is a Biblical balance that we should strive for and I think that is what the original post was basically about.
    Thanks for sharing.

  29. I gotta say that I really appreciate the inherent assumption that a pastor that spends more than a few hours doing research is wasting his time. It seems that we don’t think a cult of personality can be built up through visitation? I would love it if the pastors in my area actually brought some meat to the table if they’re going to be up there for 25 minutes or more.

    • Richard, it is a whole lot harder to build up a cult of personality via visitation. Because the visitor is not publically visible, and ideally more honest and/or more open about themselves.

      A good pastor would build up loyality via visitation, but that is different from the cult of personality. I can be loyal to someone, and respect our differences, their strengths and weaknesses. A pastor’s weaknesses are hidden if you only see them on Sunday from the pulpit.

      • A pastor’s weaknesses are hidden if you only see them on Sunday from the pulpit.

        Bullseye. And even more hidden if the pastor/preacher operates out of the paradigm that says elements of personal confession should be seldom and as non-specific as possible so as not to dishearten the fanboys. Ironically, the christians that encourage me the most are the ones who are broken, transparent, and open about their struggles, not retreating to ‘third person’ examples of those who struggle.

  30. My brother is a Catholic priest who is “guilty” of the five-minute sermon (homily). However, what a fantastic five minutes. He once described it something like, “You get in, you make your point, and you get out.” I would rather be completely engaged for five minutes than “wake up” and realize after 20 that my mind has utterly wandered off, and I’m no longer listening but making a grocery list in my head. On the other hand, I have heard some great, longish preaching at a Baptist church to which a friend belongs.

    The priest is far from central for us. In fact, if you’ve ever seen a Catholic bow or bob up and down on one knee (genuflect), and thought that was some sign of respect, it is. However we’re not bowing to the priest. We’re bowing to either what is in his hand or in the tabernacle somewhere behind or near him.

    Great post. Imonk, you are one of my favorite daily reads.

  31. I appreciate your advocacy of the pulpit. Preaching this Sunday I wanted to have my Bible with me, but there was nowhere to put it on the stand we use, and I don’t like to hold the Bible in my hand while I preach.

  32. This is a really good post, and the comments that follow it are very insightful and thought-provoking. Bravo to all.

  33. I like the way the Church that I attend while at college does things.

    We usually start the service off with the song “The Lord is in His Holy Temple” as people start to come in. It kind of helps to get everyone into the mood of the worship service and is a reminder that we are assembling in God’s presence to worship him.

    Then we have someone come up and read scripture, usually it’s the text used in the sermon, but not always. Then we have our song leader come up and lead 3 or 4 songs. Then we do the lord’s supper which is preceded with a short thought given by a man from the congregation and a prayer prior to the bread and prior to the cup. After that we do the offering. Then more singing follows and it’s followed up by a sermon.

    We have two ministers who do the preaching at our congregation. They have distinct styles of speaking and thinking, which helps to keep things interesting and fresh. Following the sermon we sing a couple more songs, during which time people are welcome to come up to the front and ask for prayers or baptism. It’s never pushed and more often than not no one comes up to the front. This also provides the service with a sense of closure.

    After that we have a 15 minute break for coffee and conversation. Then bible classes are held.

    • in the presence of God…

      Yeah, I’ll say what many people are thinking. If God’s omnipresent, how can one be NOT in His presence? 😉

  34. Wow. I’m so glad I’m out of evangelicalism at the moment.

    25 hours of sermon prep? So, how is the shepherd loving and tending the flock? Pulpit? Just another piece of furniture to keep the shepherd from tending to the flock.


    • I’m having similar thoughts…although I’m a member of an Evangelical Church these days.

      Why and how did the Sermon become Worship? Much less Central Worship? On the one hand, all of life is an act of Worship; on the other hand, I thought it was the breaking of bread that was the focus of the prayers, the songs, the everything else; the preparation for partaking of Christ’s body and blood (however you define that) as well as the community aspect of a uniting supper. I thought Jesus instituted His Supper/Eucharist/Communion/Breaking Bread/_______/ with the words “do this in remembrance of Me”; He did not use these words with the Sermon on the Mount or the Sermon on the Plain.

      I am sincerely asking…knowing the Reformational doctrines as well as the history (I’ve been Presbyterian for nigh unto 30 years), and knowing that Luther kept the rubrics of the Eucharist central to Worship, how is it that Communion has become so de-centralised in modern evangelicalism to the point where the teaching/preaching on anything and everything to a rather captive audience has become the culmination, the climax of Sunday worship?

      Assuming that Worship is participatory, how is it then, that approximately 1/3 of it…and the central 1/3 of it…is one person presenting a sermon to the listening ears of the masses? All we do, then, is show up. At best, we listen, we glean, we apply. The preacher is called, schooled, then preps (however long) … and the rest of us just come to be lead into “the throne room of grace” and talked at.

      Ahhh…but I digress in my frustration at being little more than a doo-wop back-up singer and a listening ear… And, yes, I recognise a Catholic Mass can be even less in it’s rote-memorisation and stand-up, sit-down, kneel-now, walk. Or, is it?

      Forgive me.

      • Wow, Laura. Perhaps a conversation outside of the comment thread here. I know part of your journey, I think. But I certainly didn’t realize where you were on it at the moment.

        I’d encourage folks in any church system or denomination to ask God what it is that He wants them doing and where it is that He wants them going.

        I’ve been “detoxing” for over a year now (to use a term coined by another blogger elsewhere) and it’s been hard, but a great walk with God and with my family and the remnant of real friends who actually care enough to hang out with me in my home and in theirs. And I think it’s given me time to consider why people take some things FAARRRRR too seriously.

        Laura, it’s good to hear your voice again.

        • Hi Derek 🙂

          Not to hijack…I know you’ve been up to your ears in Grad School. Look for an incoming soon… 🙂

          God be merciful to you and yours…


      • how is it that Communion has become so de-centralised in modern evangelicalism to the point where the teaching/preaching on anything and everything to a rather captive audience has become the culmination, the climax of Sunday worship?

        That is one BEAUTIFUL question. Any takers on this ?? I think it’s been a not-so-perfect strom of events over the last several hundred years to lead to the mess we’re in. I’m sure pragmatism/church growth is one of the usual suspects, but this deserves a thread all it’s own.

        Again, excellent post,and questions.

        Greg R

        • Thanks, Greg.

          Is that the sound of crickets??? Not to be rude, but I am truly seriously wrestling with this and a whole boatload of other theological quesitons. Ask Derek…he knows me well… 😉

          Anywho, I have a list for my Pastor, whom I greatly love and respect, and who I do not wish to drown in my sorrows. Anyone? Truly…anyone?

          • I’ll throw out (up??) a response tonight or tomorrow; I’ve got a men’s group thing till 9:00 tonight, so we’ll see. Your question is excellent, I’ll give it a shot.

            Greg R

          • greg,

            Most of Laura’s questions are beyond me. But I listen, nod, and do my best to understand, given time constraints. She’s been a good part of my walk, albeit, 100% online communities of various shades.

          • I’m jotting out a few thots today,and will be able to e-mail tonight. I’d rather not hijack this thread with my response. If you want my ramblings, you can reach me at gregpainting@everestkc.net Hope your day is turning into a long weekend 🙂

            Greg R

      • Laura,

        It sounds like you are asking about the Catholic Mass. (If not, I apologize in advance.)

        I’m one of the resident Catholics on this site, and a convert from Southern Baptist.

        From my standpoint, the Mass does seem to be a very complicated, very full of rote, without much personal involvement, to the outsider. To one who has learned to love it, it is full of participation.

        I join with others when we say the Creed, when we pray together. I like the way we respond to each prayer requestion with “Lord, hear our prayer”. I like the brief chance to shake hands and recognize those around us. Saying the Lord’s Prayer joins me with all who have ever said it, or will say it.

        When it comes time for Communion, the person (s) who give it to you, should look you in the eyes and truely see you. (That’s what I try to do, when I am an Eucharistic minister)

        • In many cultures, there is no Eucharistic minister. There’s the priest. He’s the only one permitted to distribute Communion, the Ashes, or any other blessing of the kind where adherents line up.

          Yes, as long as it takes.

        • Thanks, Anna A, for taking a stab at my conundrum.

          Perhaps I should flesh out a little of my back-story. I’m a cradle Catholic. Baptised by a Monsignor in Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago. 12 years of Catholic School. A really good, loving Catholic Family, Parents and a beloved Pastor who actually taught me the Gospel. Hard to believe, I know… I learnt that Jesus is my (personal) Saviour who died for my sins as well as the Sin of the World. I made my First Communion in 1963, which makes me a Vatican II kid.

          I’ve stayed connected to the RC by occasionally attending Mass. I read lots of books, including John Shea, B16, Urs von Balthasar and others. I guess you could say I keep my finger in the Holy Water 😉

          Anyway, the Mass, for me, is way less complicated than Evangelical Worship because it’s the same no matter where ya go…China, England, California. I like that. I may not know what language the responses are in, but I know the responses (even in Latin…1963, yeah?) The things from childhood are seldom forgotten.

          But I digress…

          Thank you for your help. I appreciate the love you obviously have for your Church Home; and, yes, the folk that have served me the Eucharist, both in the Catholic Church and, more recently in the Orthodox Church, always smile, look me in the eye, and, if they know me, call me by my name. I miss that. Greatly.

          My comment about the Mass (roteness, etc) was more to forestall anyone else possibly commenting on Catholicism and/or the Mass being that way. 😉 I recognise that in it’s familiarity, an insincere Catholic can readily disengage from Worship. But as the comments below indicate, so can an inattentive Evangelical when the chicken is in the oven at home and the Sermon goes a tad long…

      • I can’t remember who wrote this, but I recently read something by someone who wrote that mainstream Protestantism’s overbearing obsession with sermons and preachers has transformed much of the Body of Christ into a strange creature with one big mouth and hundreds of ears. I thought that was an interesting way of putting it.

  35. If the preaching is making you jump around to various unrelated texts in the Bible, there’s a good chance that the preacher is prooftexting his own theology and not really saying much about the Word of God. The Lectionary, while certainly not perfect, is a very, very good thing.

    The “Sermon Series” has probably done as much damage to good preaching as anything.

  36. I’m from an evangelical, low-church tradition and in my sixth year of preaching weekly, I’m considering preaching the lectionary (if I do, will probably begin in Advent). My reservation over the past year of thinking about it has been the desire (need of the context/community?) to address topics occasionally also. I appreciate what you wrote in this post about using certain times of the year (Ordinary time, etc) to go off script.

    More to think about! I’ve really been wrestling with this decision for awhile.

    Anyone else a convert?! Preaching as you “led” to following the lectionary?

    • Wayne,
      Any good lectionary will give you plenty of time to address whatever topic you are thinking is necessary to address. There will be though this added benefit. The people won’t feel like they are being pursued by a Kentucky Head Hunter. You see that is one of the brilliant aspects of the lectionary, the topic comes up with a text you didn’t choose. It gives the pastor somewhat the ability to hide behind the text. “It says what it says. I didn’t choose it. So if the shoe fits wear it.” In the meantime a good lectionary will give you ample opportunity not only to address issues that are arising in your congregation at this time, but frees you up to preach the whole counsel of God’s word over a year. The Bible ceases to be the “whack a mole” mallet immediately addressing this weeks issue. Pastoring like that might just get a little exhausting if you ask me.
      But in full disclosure, I’m not a convert. Never used anything but the lectionary. I have been to churches that didn’t. One other thing that I noticed about the “wack a mole” approach is my head might not exactly be the pastor’s target that week, so there is nothing in the sermon for me, because he is addressing another person or group’s problem, and that leaves me out. That one person, or group can become the target of every sermon real quick, and in a perverse way monopolize the congregation.

    • My advice is to start your sermon by announcing you’ll be talking about two different things. For example, “I’d like to talk to you today about the passage we just heard from the Prophet Isaiah and then at the end, a brief message about modest dress in the summer time”

      Just be clear about when you’re done the first topic or you’ll lose everyone. 🙂 It seems a bit awkward to those who like perfectly structured and sequenced sermons, but hey, sometimes it’s easier to hit two birds with two stones.

      Bror’s comments are very apt, as well.

    • I’m always amazed at how the lectionary can and does speak to my congregational struggles. In the weeks after my state experienced devastating flooding we were overwhelmed in the lectionary by phrases like “be not afraid.” I didn’t have to go off of lectionary to speak to the needs of my people. In fact – it helped me to find God’s word in a time in which the chaos of what was happening around us was overwhelming.

  37. What is the best Protestant resource for Lectionary preaching?

  38. Christiane says

    “One filled with joy preaches without preaching.” — Blessed Mother Teresa

  39. I was reading in Exodus yesterday about the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf and I got something out of the story that I hadn’t gotten before. It relates to this topic, maybe in a round-about sorta way…LOL. Let’s see if I can get there…

    In Exodus 32:7-9, the Lord God speaks of the disobedient Israelites as “your people” (i.e. Moses’) and “this people.” Because of their disobedience, He is kind of disowning them, and threatens to destroy them.

    However, Moses, in 32:11-13, reminds God that the Isrealites are His (God’s) people. Moses does not accept them as his own, but gives “ownership” back to God. The significance of this hasn’t ever struck me before, but it did yesterday.

    So what does this have to do with sermons? When I read this account, I saw Moses as analogous to today’s preacher/pastor. How many times do pastors/preachers view their congregation as “mine”? Too often, I would guess.

    Moses response to God suggests otherwise. In reality, a congregation is God’s, the people are God’s. Too often, I think, pastors/preachers try to preach “my” message to “my” people, rather than preaching God’s message to God’s people. If a message isn’t pointing people toward God and Christ, one should probably ask, “Why not?”

    • Excellent and very relevant insight into OT scripture, Rick Ro. And it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea if this principle were written up into some kind of “preacher’s creed” and carved into every church pulpit on the planet.

  40. The sermon has become a sacred cow. It is one of the least transformational aspects of what we do in the Sunday ritual. Most congregational members glaze over, their minds wander off elsewhere. They don’t remember much of it once they leave the building, and almost nothing of what was spoken the previous week.

    The model is broken.

    We major on minors.

    We preach to the converted.

    We are missing the mark.

    We think more of the same will produce different results – next week.

    Cheerfully a handful of sincere believers have abstracted themselves from this religious practice and seek instead to engage in dialog over the Scriptures, their faith and their community. There is hope.

    • Cheerfully a handful of sincere believers have abstracted themselves from this religious practice and seek instead to engage in dialog over the Scriptures, their faith and their community. There is hope.

      anywhere near KC, Overland Park area ?? just wondering

      Greg R

  41. Sort of off topic, but sort of not. I’ve heard conservative Christians are rewriting the Bible to eliminate ‘socialist’ references. References like “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”, nad the use of the word ‘laborer’.


  42. I realize I’m late in bringing this question, but someone (Mark Driscoll) explains the difference between preaching and teaching as this:

    Preaching is presenting the gospel. Teaching is giving a lesson on holy living. What happens on Sunday is generally (given this construct) teaching and not preaching. If it WAS preaching, then why would we preach to people who presumably already know the gospel message?