Preaching is pretty much the bread and butter of a ministerial vocation. It's what most people think of as our main task in ministry. I've even been asked what I do when I'm not in the pulpit---it was a kid who asked, so I didn't bridle as I might have. But sermons are a major piece of my work and I love to preach.
So I've been thinking about how I approach sermon-writing, in the past day or two, and I realize that I've gotten a little stale during the time I've been serving two congregations; I've often re-used sermons from my earlier pastorate, updating them to suit a different congregation and to reflect any changed thinking on my part. And because my schedule has had me preaching on Vashon the first Sunday of the month and on Whidbey the second Sunday, I've usually written a sermon that could be used both places, to use my time efficiently.
As I look ahead to a future in which I'm serving only one congregation, writing sermons for only one group of folks, I'm aware that this will make a difference in how I approach sermon writing. I think, I hope, it will bring a freshness to my writing and delivery.
Because I'm aware that I've gotten a little too hurried in my delivery, that I need to give a little more time for major points to sink in. I've learned that people want to know more about my own struggles, and though it's important not to use the pulpit as a therapeutic device, I think it's valuable to share my "experience, strength, and hope", as they say in 12-step programs.
And I definitely know that, as I write for just one congregation, I can be more challenging in my approach, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable!
My approach to preaching is much like my approach to teaching, my earlier career. I know I've got to get people's attention and keep it; stories, interactive moments, the unexpected, all these devices keep listeners connected and involved. It's a challenge to my creativity to establish and maintain this connection, and I relish it.
In March, I'm going to be preaching at Whidbey three Sundays in a row, and this will give me a chance to offer a series of three sermons on Faithfulness. I've been thinking about what Faithfulness means in a congregational setting and will use that theme to speak about our covenants with self, others, and the universe. This will be a wonderful opportunity to refresh my style and approach.
I've come to these awarenesses about preaching partly on my own, partly through useful feedback from listeners. And while it's always scary to be critiqued, it is essential for a minister to listen to that critique, examine it, and use it--not to try to please the critiquer but to improve this most visible of all ministry tasks.
I think of myself as a good preacher already, but I would like to be even better, to know that my thoughts were reaching people in the most effective ways possible. It is a worthy goal.