The illusion of a “good sermon.” Recently I had the opportunity to preach again at our home church. I approach those times with an odd mix of excitement and trepidation. As a performer, I love the process of crafting a talk that will engage an audience and encourage them to make changes in their lives. As a Christ follower, it is an immense challenge and responsibility to convey the message that God has for me to deliver.
Following the Gathering (what we call our “service”) I had several people tell me how I did a good (or even great) job. I feel very blessed that I often hear this following my preaching.
It is a weird place to be when someone says something to you like that about a sermon. This time my response to that statement was something along the lines of “Well, thank you. However, it wasn’t me, it was all God. If there was anything good about it, we have Him to thank.”
Now, that was not any sort of false humility. I truly meant it. Even though I had spent quite a bit of time contemplating my message and reflecting on the key passage, it did not “gel” for me until the day before. I really felt as though God was speaking in and through me.
I began reflecting upon this tradition of telling the pastor/speaker/teacher how they did a great job and the message “really hit home.” I’ll admit I have been guily of this. It is not as though I didn’t enjoy a particular speaker’s message. In fact, I probably was engaged and even affected by what they had to say. However, I can’t say in that exact moment following the sermon whether it was good or not. And, honestly, neither can most of us.
Let me explain…
As a performer, I craft my presentations to be entertaining distractions for an hour or two. They are not generally designed to have any real long-lasting effects on the audience. Consequently if after a performance someone wants to say “great job!” I’ll take it. That instant gratification and adulation from audience members is actually what I am going for.
As a preacher of God’s word however, I am going for something so much more. I recognize the weight of delivering God’s message to the listener’s of my message. I want to make them really contemplate their relationship with God, look for areas that are holding them back from a deeper connection and then make the appropriate changes in those areas.
I would hope most ministers and preachers of the LORD want that as well, and not just “good sermon.”
It would be very easy for me to use my training in crafting compelling messages that tug at the emotions of my listeners to develop sermons that do the same thing. In fact, I often will. There is no doubt that preaching is a performance art. But, I honestly want God’s word to impact my listeners’ lives and not my simple turn of phrase.
That being the case, while I do appreciate the positive comments and feedback following a sermon, I would much rather people tell me down the line about the impact of the message on their lives. Did they actually make changes? Did they move any closer toward God’s ways because of the message I had a privilege to deliver? That is the type of feedback that actually matters. Everything else is flattery and has no place in God’s pulpit.