Some Thoughts on Sermons
May 16, 2019 by Sean Grossman 0 comments
(Disclaimer: Not now, nor ever, do I claim to be an expert on anything related to sermons, either writing or listening. These are simply my thoughts on the subject. High five for thoughts!)
I have been the pastor here at FBC Westfield for, almost, 5 years. This has led to incredible blessings. It has also led to many stresses. Believe it or not, being a pastor is rather hard, and, to let you in on a little secret, few are as critical of a pastor as the pastor is of himself. Or...at least it's true of me.
I doubt anyone has been as critical of me as I have been of myself. Perhaps the most critical I am of myself is with my sermons. In the five years I have been the pastor of this congregation, I have written every sermon I have preached. I don't copy and paste, or steal others. Every word that I write comes from me.
But being so critical of myself means that every word I write is not enough. It's never good enough. I have never written a sermon where I thought, "Perfect!" Instead I see the flaws in it despite my best attempts at being flawless.
So the question is, how do I maintain it? It's been five years of preaching, something which I critique myself with every week whether it's in the sermon itself or delivery. How does one keep going and not simply give up?
Well, I guess it has to do with my approach. I don't think I write my sermons the way others write their sermons. I tend to write them as a commentator does. We go over a Scripture passage verse by verse, unpacking what the verses mean. Once we have dealt with the technical aspects, we then jump into the applications.
Now, some might wonder about this. Why this method? Well, it stems from two thoughts. The first is, many in my congregation will not likely pick up a Biblical commentary, therefore I find it necessary to give as much information about the text as possible. The second is, people are different. Some individuals don't really care for the expository verse by verse technical stuff, they want the applications! Others, however, really love the technical and don't care for the application! Another secret, you can't please everyone as a pastor.
So this approach helps ground me in the layout of the sermon itself, it helps keep me focused on the text, and doesn't let me stray too far from it because if I do, my entire congregation can call me out for rabbit trails :)
But it also leads to more when it comes to the application. What goes in my mind when I am writing the applications portion of my sermon? Well, to be honest, the words of Jesus.
Consider this encounter. "One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all your mind.' This is the frst and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the prophets hand on these two commandments."-Matthew 22:35-40
Now, some of you might be wonder, what on earth does this have to do with sermons? Well, I think it sets up a good paradigm for us when it comes to sermon writing, and sermon listening. When it comes to sermon writing, I am asking myself this question, "Does this help us to love the love God with our heart, soul, and mind? Does it help us love our neighbor as ourselves?"
By that, I do not necessarily mean that every single sermon application will hit each one. Sometimes the application is more geared toward our minds, in how we understand, how we grow in knowledge of God and His ways. Sometimes it hits our hearts, our affections. Finally, with our soul, our being. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they do not. Sometimes the application is incredibly theological and philosophical, sometimes it is heartfelt, sometimes it encourages us to simply seek God with all of who we are. Sometimes all of the above.
So, this is the method I use when I write my sermons, and it helps me with the application aspect especially.
But, it also helps me when I am listening to sermons. It can help me be both critical and help me grow. When I hear others preach, I ask myself the same question, is this helping me grow in love for God in these ways, or helping me to love others in this way? If so, then great! If not, then I do think there needs to be some critical analysis on our parts not to simply listen to a sermon for the sake of the sermon.
Indeed, it might also be the case that we simply focus on one particular more than others. I think we all know which one the majority of pastors focus on, and that is the heart, our affections. I think this is the case because people tend to relate far more to stories rather than to theological ideas. Many in our congregations have simply never begun to think theologically, have never been challenged to use their minds for the glory of God, and if they have far too often they interpreted the above text as meaning, "Don't think bad thoughts!" Unfortunately, Jesus elsewhere in Matthew says, "For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander." Matthew 15:19.
In other words, where our affections are so will our actions be. But it also leads us to understand that when Christ tells us to love the Lord with our minds it means our reason. In the fact that we are called to be thinking people.
Does this mean every sermon must be a large theological discourse? No. But it does mean that we should be willing to encourage others to use their minds by writing sermons which cause them to think, rather than just feel. If all we do is focus on an individuals feelings, then we've only waged the war on one side of the front. As sermon writers, we must be willing to wage the war on all fronts, wherever the Scriptures lead.
The final thought I have about this is that, I hope you are encouraged to look at sermon writing and listening differently. To maybe be encouraged, when listening to a sermon, to ask this question, "Is this encouraging me to love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, and soul and or to love my neighbor as myself?" I think you will find sermon listening a little bit easier if you do, and you may even find a greater amount of encouragement to love God when you challenge yourself to listen in this way.
Soli Deo Gloria,
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