Just now I went to the kitchen here at work to get the goods to make some coffee. As I passed one of the classroom doors, a boy came over and asked what I was doing. “Writing a sermon,” I said.
He asked, “What’s a sermon?”
If you ever want to force yourself to bring clarity into your life, get a preschooler to follow you around for a day and ask questions.
When he asked this question, I realized I had about two seconds to clearly and succinctly explain my life’s calling. Preaching is the central task not only of my job, but my vocation (the distinction between the two will have to wait for another post). Suddenly I was faced with explaining in simple terms what exactly it is that I do.
So I told him, “A sermon is where you study the Bible and then share with people what you learn.”
I’m grateful for that encounter and that penetrating question because it forced me to return to my task with renewed purpose, intentionality, and clarity. A sermon is where you study the Bible and then share with people what you learn. That means a sermon is not:
- a chance to tell that story I’ve been itching to tell (which, of course, could somehow be squeezed into the sermon disguised as an “illustration”).
- a platform for airing my opinions, frustrations, and personal biases.
- an opportunity to relive my childhood dreams of being a performer.
- an avenue for telling my favorite jokes.
- a channel for voicing the latest trends in church ministry.
- a way for me to tell people what I think… supported, of course, with Scripture. (If anything is supported with Scripture rather than based on Scripture, that should be a red flag.)
- the time to try to impress people and get them to like me.
- for the purpose of showing everyone how spiritual or knowledgeable I am.
Now obviously it’s okay–and often even helpful–to tell stories, crack jokes, share personal illustrations, implement effective speaking practices, and so on. But all of these things are secondary to the biblical text. The point of a sermon is to share what God says, not what I say; it’s about God’s Word, not mine. If I begin with my ideas and simply wrap it in Scripture like a Bible fajita, where the meat is my ideas instead of God’s, I’m not preaching a sermon. An authentic sermon begins with God’s thoughts and expresses them through the preacher. It will look different with every preacher, just as the sunlight looks different shining through different stained glass windows.
By the way, after giving my definition of a sermon, the boy merely said, “Oh,” and ran off to play. Sometimes that’s the same response I get after preaching a sermon, but again, that’s for another post….