I’m Losing Interest In Preaching But I Feel Like I Shouldn’t

Preaching is slowly becoming this dreary thing that I can’t help but thinking of it as an empty routine. I enjoy formulating arguments, doing research and thinking about theology a lot. I enjoy reading and thinking and asking questions and then asking them out loud again in front of a bunch of people and gauging their reactions. What I don’t enjoy is repetitiveness. Even if I think repetitiveness is right and good and needed for a bunch of undisciplined folks like ourselves, I can’t help but continually get frustrated. I don’t like doing something over and over again if it doesn’t seem to be doing anything or being effective.

I know I’m in a rut right now for a few reasons. Last month I said to someone ‘I should just send out my sermon to everyone by e-mail ahead of time, so everyone can read it over and be more prepared on Sunday.’ This week I asked, somewhat sarcastically if I could jut read a chapter out of a book instead of preaching a sermon. The last few months I find myself reading my sermon verbatim rather than using my notes to set me off into the directions that I want to go. For whatever reason, I have lost my love for the sermon in the service.

I think I am more academically minded than most. I tend to look at the sermon as a time to transfer ideas from my head to everyone else’s. Writing sermons for me have become kind of a academic outlet for me as I tend to spend more time reading the material than I do writing any of my own. Lately I’ve just resorted to grasping concepts out of books and mashing them together in what I consider to be artful mess of brilliance that I think other people just have to hear. To some, this is unacceptable. This is a cop-out of what preaching should be, it’s lazy and it shows no heart. But for me, it’s sharing with people the brilliance of some of the greatest thinkers in the world. Why would I presume I can formulate these ideas better than they can? Why not just share their thoughts and then go from there?

Then I go to an Anglican church, and the sermon is a five minute devotional and the the rest of the service moves right along with the climax being the Eucharist instead of the sermon. Part of me is jealous of this. Why in the world is the teacher and what he is saying at the climax of an Evangelical service? God knows we are making it up half the time and just trying to fill in space because we just have never done it any other way. It makes sense for the sermon to be a throw-in, an afterthought, something just to bring it down to earth for a few minutes to remind people that there is some practicality and real life relevance to the Sunday routine. But really, the reason we are there is to gather around the Lord’s table right? Why in the world does the evangelical church put so much emphasis on the sermon then?

Evangelicals might say it’s because we need to create a sacred space for people to ponder and reflect. It’s one of the reasons why we do Q&A in the middle of our sermons. But really, listening to someone talk for 25 minutes and then other people who are just hearing this stuff for the first time reflect out loud about it isn’t really the greatest environment for introspective analysis. Some of us are emotional beings and we love the pick up we get from hearing a motivational sermon and we leave re-charged. Nothing against that I guess, but is that really the point either? Is it really just for a spiritual fill up? A weekly edification?  I wonder how much ‘preaching’ went on in early churches? Was it 45 minute sermons and arguments trying to convince everyone of a new truth of the gospel and that they really should do everything that Jesus said to do with funky illustrations and pictures and Powerpoints? Was it just reading scriptures out loud and then silence for a time to reflect? Was it the main place for all teaching of the scriptures?

The right answer of course is that we preach to proclaim the gospel. We preach so that the Word goes forth and challenges and shapes and forms God’s people. The Word goes forth through God’s people to form God’s people. So I know it’s right at some point. I know this is the way of God’s people and the way it should be done to a degree. Just lately it doesn’t feel right. It’s like there is something missing or better, we are doing too much. Something that just isn’t blatantly obvious in the way we gather. So in the meantime I’ll keep it up and just wait patiently until more understanding is revealed to me about what in the world is going on with the Sermon.

11 Comments

  • So why don’t you try incorporating communion into more services and shorten the sermon time in them – try to access the best of both worlds?
    What denomination are you in?

  • It’s not entirely that simple. We are Free Methodist and I’m one of 7 people who teach at theStory, though I do teach once a month. So I’m not sure it’s up to me entirely to change the entire structure of our service because I’m feeling tired.

  • I tried to do really short sermons in the fall… But found that I needed more time, not for content, but just to feel relaxed and give things room to breathe. But I get this tension. Listened much to Nadia Bolz-Weber? Lutheran who does 10 minute sermons that have really been messing with my perception of the sermon, despite being raised Lutheran. It may be another helpful voice. But I do wonder if we, especially those who are newer in their faith, NEED a bit of a longer sermon with time to explore themes in more detail. I wonder if sometimes the really short sermon still feels too separated from “real life” to really connect. At least from my experience in a mainline church.

  • Great post. Been going through some similar feelings/thoughts when it comes to sermons. I wonder if its a pendulum thing. I currently find more learning via modes of books, discussions, blogs, and experiential forms of learning like stations/labyrinths/etc. Has the sermon become the modern tradition? Pastors depend on it to justify their employment. Sadly some pastors dont even know what they would do with their time otherwise. Majority of parishioners seem to use it as the checklist to being a good christian. However, the mode has become statistically insignificant, and cost prohibitive for the Church to be creative. Dont get me wrong, I love the process of crafting a sermon, or hearing a great orator, but maybe the solution is to break more rules and find more tactile ways to learn. Im still searching for better examples. Hope you continue to share what your finding.

    • Darryl, I’m curious as to what in your experience the sermon is for. Is it for the congregation to learn? Be edified? I agree with your comment here especially when it comes to the employment piece. I wonder if it’s because we don’t know why we preach and what the point of it is that folks like us tend to become drained by it.

  • Nathan – I’m with you, dude. At least I think I am. If I had my way (and a lot more time), I’d spend it all in books. Reading, thinking about the implications of the Gospel, and what it means for us today. Yet I think that there is a role for the sermon in the here and now.

    I just think it’s this highly under-used medium.

    I say this for two reasons. First, most evangelical sermons take too long to say nothing. A 30- to 40-minute sermon may have a lot of content, but a) is it coherent; or b) is it useful? I have heard so many sermons that are way too freaking long that say nothing in particular, and do not reveal, except in a very oblique sense, the impact of the gospel in the here-and-now.

    As you know, I’ve spent a bunch of my recent years in the mainline world. Too often here, in the 5-12 minute homily, nothing is said. There’s comfort in the Eucharist – i.e. if the sermon is shit, at least you all find yourselves at the table, but it seems that this is still a wasted opportunity.

    What I think I’m calling for is a move from prose to poetry. I think when I point to some of the best sermons I’ve heard (and, for the record, have preached), they opened up the gospel in a disruptive way – the way only poetry can do. I think the problem with so much of our preaching today is that we want to hammer it home. We want to tell people what to believe, rather than opening up the scripture in the midst of the community, and providing an opportunity for that gathered community to both marvel at its goodness, and to be scared shitless by its implications for us.

    Good poetry will do that. Prose rarely can. And I’m not just talking about quoting Brueggemann. I’m talking about preaching in a way that is informed by the disruptive, prophetic imagination. If a sermon can spark wonder, if it can spark questions of “how must we then live?” in response to the word made flesh in our midst, then its done its job. And it can draw us in deeper to the mystery of The Table.

    • Andrew, it’s interesting because over the last few years I have been finishing my sermons with prayers that I have been writing myself, as sort of a summary of everything I wrote. Sometimes I feel like I can say more and it is much more effective in a few lines of prayers than I can in an entire sermon. I am far from a poet, but I’ve never considered it really like you are suggesting here. Lots to ponder.

  • Good questions. I must confess, I have taken a break from preaching and teaching in a church, so want to provide that context to my reply.
    Personally, I usually see preaching as a teaching piece (often under the value of “discipleship” & “worship”). However, I don’t see much results. People rarely remember much, and it rarely leads people to personal learning/direction for further study unless its mandatory (like in a home church/small group program). Furthermore, and I realize this sounds super arrogant, but I rarely “get” anything out of a sermon. I realize most preachers are often trying to teach the least learned, or the mass middle. This is one of the great flaws of sermons being a teaching tool in my opinion.
    One reply I have heard personally from a few pastors I have asked similar questions to, have quoted the sentiment the preachers role is to point out that people are thirsty, not provide the water. Sounds good to me, but what I have seen this to mean, is lazy application and preachers who provide “better questions” to questions most people aren’t really asking.
    I would agree that sermons seem like shotgun shots in the dark of purpose. Maybe part of the answer is having clear purpose and a rotating purpose to meet different needs/opportunities of the community. Just some initial thoughts I can scratch together. I would love to see more sermons that can be described as subversive and prophetic.

  • Unless you’re a virtuoso, a sermon should be less than ten minutes. Personally I have no idea why the best place for teaching and formation should be the pastor’s 45 lecture every week. Going to hear the same man 2x on Sunday doesn’t strike me as the wisest use of my personal time.

  • Nice.

    First, it seems to me that preaching has been around for some time and is rooted (for Christians) in the synagogue system. Thus, Jesus in Luke goes into the synagogue and opens the scriptures to reveal that it is he who Isaiah prophesied about, “today these words are fulfilled in your midst” (paraphrase!).

    That brings me to my second point. When I think of what really great preaching is, I think of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. There he is, walking with his disciples, talking as they go. But John tells us that it isn’t until Jesus opens the scriptures (the Hebrew Scriptures) to them and breaks bread with them that they recognize the risen Jesus in their midst.

    THIS is what great preaching does. It opens the scriptures in such a way that we see the Triune God at work on every page. This, coupled with the breaking of the bread (as you mention) is how us blind and faithless folk come to see the risen Jesus in our midst. On a side note, this raises all sorts of questions (the seeing the risen Jesus in our midst bit) that I don’t think it is necessarily the job of the sermon (or preacher) to answer/reconcile.

  • Eucharist is not to be done because you are tired and it’s seen as a cop out! Eucharist is what you do because you are tired! It is food for the journey ahead my friend, it is what gives us strength when we are tired. It’s how we express our fatih in God through Christ in the deepest form of thanks our Church can muster. Eucharist trumps the sermon as does the Eucharistic liturgy.

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