My pastor recently travelled from Edmonton to Vancouver for a week’s course on how to “learn more about preaching” as he explained Sunday morning from a makeshift pulpit in the school foyer where about 80 committed believers meet each week at 10 a.m. The church is a “split” or a “plant” depending on who you talk to, but needless to say preaching plays an important role in the formation of this three-year old local church body. I went home and started thinking about what my Ideal Sermon might look and sound like…
I came up with a list of what lifted my spirit on a Sunday morning. Although not invited to the pastor’s conference on the coast, I felt semi-qualified to write the list based on my 25 years of close listening to sermons by various preachers in various churches in various cities and towns. The people and setting vary, but a few things don’t change. The list is a edited version of my Ideal Sermon, which would be—ideally—about 20 minutes in length and delivered in gentle but persuasive tones of wonder and awe, and of course start and end on time, but I get ahead of myself…
I know I risk being accused of wanting to hear only “what makes my ears tickle” or to “customize my sermon like I do my burger” or “avoiding hard truths” or even “being judgmental and critical.” Yet, I offer to you, the reader, this humble rendering of what my soul longs for during those precious 20 minutes when the pastor takes up his or her place at the front of the congregation. I am one of the people prayerfully waiting, listening and hoping for the following:
- My ideal sermon is personal. It speaks to me directly, as an individual and as a member of a particular body gathered on a particular day. In other words, it is grounded in who is present and where we sit now (physically and spiritually).
- My ideal sermon is intentionally rooted in a larger vision. It is placed in the context of scripture as a whole, which assures me of God’s ultimate goodness. I remember a sermon that went right to my gut and gave me the courage I needed to face a hard situation that week with my dad. It was a life-changer for both of us.
- My ideal sermon is a continual reminder of my identity in God as one of the saints (and by God’s grace no longer a sinner).
- My ideal sermon ushers me into sacred places, using the language of intentional listening for the still, small voice of God that still speaks to us today. The church I currently attend builds “a listening time” into the morning service.
- My ideal sermon shines a bright light. It calls out of darkness the things that might be growing dim and dull within me. It speaks to the parts of me that may have lost touch with their Creator and Designer, who has a plan for my life. I’d rather hear about the light that lies ahead than about the darkness I left behind.
- My ideal sermon sticks to the Word of God. It persuades by depth of conviction rather than by natural eloquence. I’d rather build my faith in God on the Word of God than on any other word.
- My ideal sermon magnifies the rich rewards of following God, even while we suffer this side of heaven. It does not equivocate or hedge its bets. It relies fully on the promises of God. A bold sermon keeps me bold in what I believe.
- My ideal sermon steers me (and others) towards ultimate goals. Transcending current circumstances, challenges and successes, a sermon can reach out to bless me in the focused pursuit of God’s will in it all.
- My ideal sermon has its source in time spent with God. It is a witness to the work of God within the preacher and a testimony of God’s transformation of humanity. I imagine a weekly sermon is hard to produce any other way than through personal prayer.
- Finally, my ideal sermon is part of a larger conversation. A preacher need not be a standalone. A year’s worth of sermons can be a collective effort, featuring a few proven, prayerful (volunteer) speakers from within the congregation, all of whom appreciate what it takes to deliver a life-giving message from the Word of God in 20 minutes on a Sunday morning to a congregation of hopefuls.