Friday, August 26, 2016
Preach that Word!
This week the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey of 5,000 people about what would attract them to a new place of worship. For more than eight out of ten --83%-- the top of their list is preaching. “This is what people value in a congregation — a good message, a good homily that resonates with them and gives them guidance,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director for religion research.
I was gratified to read this, because the way we receive information has changed dramatically in the last decade, let alone through the centuries. I know that people respond to music as a powerful aspect of worship, and a warm welcome is essential. In the day-to-day life of a congregation pastoral care matters a great deal. Once again, though, preaching is at the core. United Church studies have discovered the same through the years.
This is both an encouragement and a humbling reminder. I figure I have prepared and preached more than 1600 Sunday sermons through 36+ years of pastoral ministry, along with hundreds of other messages for special liturgical occasions, as well as weddings and funerals and in nursing homes. I do my best to bring my A-game, week in and out, and I've yet to bail on a Sunday morning, with an unscheduled absence. I don't get pastors who claim they don't have time to be well prepared for Sunday morning.
At the moment I am completing my sermon for a week from now because I'm away this Sunday, and I've started on my message for the first week of Creation Time in September. I'm at the church on Sunday mornings by 8:00 AM, preaching to an empty sanctuary so I don't have to rely on my notes too heavily come 10:30. I'll keep up this regimen until I retire.
I can't speak to how folk receive my preaching, and every preacher has fans and detractors. I've said before that I am somewhat bewildered by what individuals do and don't hear, and what they thought they heard that just wasn't there! I don't hoot or holler or point, but I do hope that I touch hearts and minds. All I can do is be as faithful to the texts of scripture, and endeavour to be as creative and current as possible, without being too captivated by the idol of relevance.
I actually enjoy preparing a sermon and the actual proclamation of a message. Even though I'm often my own strongest critic, I consider preaching a privilege. I've changed my style of preaching in a number of ways over the years in the hope that I will be authentic and responsive to the moment I find myself in.
Would you be amongst those eight out of ten who value the sermon highly? Have your expectations for preaching changed over time? Do you enjoy the addition of visual images and even videos at times?