It deals with how listeners should view sermons. As such, it's a message every preacher wishes his people would read and take to heart. Anyone who has ever stood behind a pulpit, or lectern, or sought to convey the truth of God's Word to a group of people, understands exactly what Challis means and would want all who listen to their messages to understand it as well. So here it is... from one who preaches to many who listen. Enjoy!
Sermons Are Not For Liking
I did not set out to be a preacher. Ten years ago I would have laughed out loud if someone had told me that a decade hence I would be a regular in the pulpit. As I've slowly acclimated to preaching, I have found myself thinking very differently about sermons. I've been listening to sermons all of my life, but only now do I see preaching from the other side of the pulpit, so to speak. It has been very good for me.
Today I want to share a lesson I've learned that applies primarily to those of us who listen to preaching (as I do, most Sundays, since I am not an every-Sunday kind of preacher). Here’s the lesson: Sermons are not for liking.
Sermons are for listening, they are for discerning, they are for applying, but they are not for liking. You don’t get to like or dislike a sermon. We tend to ask questions like, “So how did you enjoy the sermon today?” It is just the wrong question to ask.
I guess that isn't always true. If a sermon is outright unbiblical—if the preacher butchers his text, misses the point, teaches nonsense or outright error, then I guess you are well within your rights to dislike it because God dislikes it and is dishonored by it. And maybe if it is clear the preacher put little or no thought into his text, if he is delivering a sermon only out of a sense of duty or the overflow of pride, maybe then you can dislike it because, again, it dishonors God. But I suspect few of us find ourselves in that situation on a regular basis.
Back to my point: Sermons are not for liking. There are at least two reasons for this: it dishonors preaching and it dishonors the preacher.
1.) To ask, “How did you like the sermon?” dishonors preaching. It dishonors the very form, the God-given medium. We trust that when the Word is preached, the Spirit works. He is present in the preaching, present in the speaker, and in the hearer, shaping words, molding hearts, applying truth. We preach because God tells us to, and we preach trusting that God uses this form of communication instead of another form. We preach even though preaching seems so foolish. When we ask, “How did you like the sermon?” we make the sermon something we consume rather than something that consumes us. We judge it like we judge the custom-crafted latte at Starbucks or the new iDevice we saved up for.
2.) To ask, “How did you like the sermon?” dishonors the preacher. The sermon you hear on Sunday morning may look like it just flows out of the preacher’s mouth. It may seem so easy, so natural, that you think the preacher hardly had to work at it. Yet the more effortless it appears, the more work it represents. When you see Albert Pujols swing a bat or Phil Mickelson drive a ball, you are not seeing people simply taking advantage of innate talent. You are seeing the result of practice and preparation. These are people who have dedicated thousands of hours to honing their craft; they have become so skilled that they make it appear easy.
This is true of preachers as well. The sermon that is smooth and easy, that moves seamlessly from one point to the next, that delivers bang-on application—this is the sermon that displays more practice, more skill, more time in preparation.
Don’t confuse hard-earned skill with easy preparation. And then there is the delivery, where a man has to stand before a hundred or two hundred or a thousand people and deliver that sermon, hoping he connects with his listeners, trusting his interpretation is sound, longing for the application to fit. It dishonors the man to then ask, “How did you like it?”
Don’t like it! Instead, ponder it, meditate upon it, and apply it.
At the end of it all, “How did you enjoy the sermon?” is simply the wrong question to ask. Far better is, “What did you learn from the sermon?” or “How did the Holy Spirit speak to you through the sermon?” These are questions that elevate the form or medium far above our preferences, and call upon us to submit to the Spirit as he is present in preaching."
If we are caught up in some particular sin, the best sermon for us is not one that we like, or one that makes us feel good, but one that cuts us to the core and unsettles us so deeply that it moves us to repentance. If we are struggling with doubt and feel like giving up, its the one that helps us to see God's promises anew, infuses us with hope, and moves us to a renewed determination to persevere. If we are filled with guilt and despair of ever sensing God's affirmation and love, its the one that convinces us no sin is beyond the reach of the grace and forgiveness Christ secured for us on the cross.
A sermon is not to be measured by how it makes us feel, but by how it reveals God, His redemptive will for our lives, and by what it moves us to DO in response to the truth conveyed through it.
Michael Horton put it well in his book, "A Place for Weakness." Discussing his wife's experience with "a severe hormone-induced depression" related to her pregnancy he states:
"Lisa realized that she could not preach the Word to herself; she needed a herald sent from God himself to proclaim externally something different from what she felt internally. In times of crisis, the most important thing we can do is go to church. Chiefly, this is where God's herald (the preacher) announces that 'external Word' that contradicts our private judgments. Working against the tide of our inner experience and thoughts, this announcement comes rushing toward us like water from the Himalayas: 'You are forgiven, go in peace.'" (Luke 7:36-50)
The last two weeks of my vacation I was privileged to sit and listen to two sermons by two of the gentlemen who filled my pulpit in my absence. The first was Bob Moyer on, "Leaving What's Behind, Behind," and Ted Rabenold on, "Your Husband Is Your Maker". They were sermons that instructed me, served as a good reminder, and moved me to do something in response to them.
I didn't just "like" them (a dishonor to both preaching and the preacher) I was challenged and changed by them. That's preaching and I'm somehow different for having been there to hear it.
May we all, "submit to the Spirit as he is present in preaching." Pastor Jeff