Recently I spent the better part of a week going through 10 years of sermons – re-labeling, re-organizing, and re-categorizing them so I could share them with my staff on Dropbox. It was enlightening to say the least. I saw larger patterns of things I was proud of, and not so proud of.
Here’s a list of things I took note of that I wanted to change, continue, or forever expunge from my sermonizing ways:
What didn’t work?
Too Many Canned Stories
As I looked back on the sermons that seemed to fall flat, they almost always had too many canned stories usually from sermon websites somewhere. As I reminisced, the sermons that seemed to come alive were always the ones where I took the time and emotional energy to craft a personal story from my own life. Looking back I think I took the “road heavily traveled” because I couldn’t keep my butt at the desk for those extra four hours my messages needed.
Too Human Centered
As I looked back over the messages that seemed banal, I was struck by the way they always seemed to focus on “us.” Worry. Relationships. Stress. I noticed dozens and dozens of sermons on human-centered issues and needs. What I couldn’t help notice missing were the series on the character of God, key doctrines, and theological issues.
Too Tied To The Church Calendar And Key Growth Initiatives
I was struck by how more than a few messages were predicated upon or connected to some kind of growth initiative (ex. Friend Day, capital campaign, “preach on this now because giving needs to go up”). Sometimes you have to preach on things because the calendar demands it. But not too much. Right or wrong, I look back on a few of those messages feeling like I compromised in some way.
What worked well?
Jesus Torquemada Messages
Torquemada was one of the key leaders of the Spanish Inquisition. Over the years, these “defining moment” messages all seemed to have one thing in common: our church was at a crossroads on a key doctrine and I had the guts to stand up and say, “This is what we believe. Hopefully you can get on board. If not, then maybe this isn’t the church for you.”
Preaching Expositionally Through A Book Or Key Passage
Looking through my files I felt a little emotional as I revisited the messages I wrote as I preached through the Book of Titus, Philippians, Romans 5 and others. I recalled the personal insights I gained and how refreshing it was to get away from my hobby horses and simply teach the Bible.
Using Quotes From The Christian Classics
Though the occurences were sporadic, I felt that the messages that shared insights and quotes from the Christian classics (ex. The Journal of George Fox, Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion, etc.) seemed especially potent. I felt like those messages really tied our faith community into the larger stream of Christendom and broke down denominational barriers.
Stay In The Seat
The biggest take away was this: I need to discipline myself to keep my butt glued to the seat until I feel “released” by the Holy Spirit. I know that seems too Pentecostal-ish, but I don’t know how else to put it. I tell the Senior Pastors I coach that we know when we’re “finished” or we’ve simply “cut prep. short.” Too often, it appears, I’ve delivered sub-quality stuff simply because I was too tempted to check my email or walk out of my office and jump into something more fun.
Four more hours. I think that’s the difference between a good message and a great message.
What else do you think distinguishes a great sermon from a good one?