So I preached a sermon for the first time in about 17 months this past Sunday. Preaching is one of my greatest gifts and favorite activities, and so it was with much anticipation that I walked up to the pulpit. Since the last time I preached, I have been through almost 47 hours worth of seminary with nary a particular preaching class, so I had gained a whole lot of head knowledge about God, the Bible, and such, but I hadn’t practically put that into preaching yet, and it showed.
Before I left for Asbury, I had a congregant who came up to me and said, “Don’t let seminary ruin your preaching. I like it the way it is.” Now, this has danger written all over, I know. But let’s get to the truth of his statement, which was the strength of my pre-Asbury preaching: connecting. Pre-Asbury, I could preach sermons that resonated and connected with others. God has given me the ability to hook people into the sermon and guide them through the journey through Scripture. At its best, the sermon connected with people where they were at and engaged their heart and mind in God’s Will. At its worst, it was a witty, well-crafted speech where people remembered my personal stories, and not God’s grander narrative.
In my first sermon back, I had a great theological and biblical sermon about the kingdom of God. I used about 12 scripture references either directly or indirectly, and maintained continuity throughout the sermon. My sermon was even crafted well, with a slightly surprising plot twist (Eugene Lowry The Homiletical Plot) and an eloquent and creative closing prayer. Needless to say, on paper it was a great sermon. However, when I preached it. It didn’t seem to quite connect. Now, part of that was nerves about preaching for the first time in a while and in a new place. Part of it was some slight unpreparedness especially in my transitions, leading to some verbal fillers, but looking back at it, my greatest weakness was a lack of connecting. I had great information, but I didn’t translate it as well into everyday and relevant ways. It was more theoretical than practical, and I needed to make it more practical, real, and tangible for the congregation.
So there is my reflection on my first sermon in a while. I look forward to continue to grow as a preacher, and seeing how God is going to use this gift. I anticipate sermons that are great on paper and in person. I hope for sermons that teach great biblical truth and is grounded in scripture, yet they are communicated for connection and find richness in the relationship between preacher and congregation. I also look forward to preaching again, and I will get to do that in just over a month!