How has my preaching changed?

I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve been writing sermons and preaching weekly to congregations for nearly thirty-four years. Yes, a lot has changed since I first started preparing, writing and delivering sermons.

Today, I have a wealth of resources in the palm of my hand. With just my phone I have access to original language (Hebrew and Greek) tools, commentaries, and written and video sermons on every verse in the bible! Some of those resources are great. Some are so-so. Some are worthless. When I started in 1986, all I had was a study bible and just a few commentaries. I was mostly on my own to read, apply and proclaim the text. Actually, I prefer to work that way now. Most of the online resources are old, trite and not applicable to my congregation. In most cases, I’m better off just working with the text.

When I began, I wrote all my sermons out by hand. I still have a copy of my first handwritten sermon on lined looseleaf paper. It was tedious and took a lot of time. A computer and word processing software saved me a lot of editing and rewriting time. Now I don’t even write everything out, using powerpoint software to organize my thoughts.

I tell a lot more stories than I used to. Stories engage imaginations and stick in your memory. I have worked hard on coming up with and telling stories that illustrate my sermon point. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been enjoyable to learn how to be a better story teller.

I have reused very few sermons in my career. You would think that after ten or twelve years, you would have amassed enough sermons to last for the rest of your ministry. However, when I go back and read what I preached in the past, I usually don’t like the sermon. The words just don’t work twenty or thirty years later. Actually I only have one sermon I’ve used more than once, a wedding sermon from Genesis 2:25 about getting naked!

I’ve got about fifteen years of audio sermons preserved on CDs. Not that I or anyone else listens to them. Maybe I will someday, just to see if my speaking style has changed at all. Without really trying, I find that all my sermons still turn out to be about fifteen minutes long. I’m kind of a “get to the point” guy in my sermons (and my conversations.)

On my way to church early each Sunday morning, I always thank God for my voice (because I’ve been prone to laryngitis), the Word (so I have something to say) and for a congregation (someone who will come to listen). God has consistently blessed me with all those gifts for all the years I’ve been preaching!

Role reversal

I didn’t have to preach today. We had a guest preacher for the final week of a stewardship emphasis we had today.

Sometimes it’s harder to sit and listen to a sermon than to preach one. Know why? As a preacher you tend to over-analyze every sermon. You’re constantly critiquing the speaker’s style, content, stories and delivery, rather than just listening, expecting God to speak through that person. It’s not too much different than watching sports and second-guessing the plays that are called. You would have done things so differently. And you would have done so much better.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we get a lot of training in preaching, but very little in listening. Listening is hard work. It’s tough to shut down all the other things going on in your mind and shut out the distractions around you to truly hear what someone is saying. Plus, we preachers get a lot of practice preaching, but little in listening. I did most of my listening before I started preaching, but not much afterwards. I think I need to do more. That’s one resource that’s available to me. There are zillions of sermons I can listen to online.

So even though I really didn’t hear anything new or especially interesting this morning, I did get a message. I need to ┬álearn how to listen better. And to do that, I’ll have to do some listening. I’ll let you know what I learn and who I find to listen to.