When was the last time you cried in Church? When was the last time you got angry – or embarrassed?
If the answer is ‘never’ or ‘a long time ago’ then I suspect it will sadden your minister’s heart. (It’s okay, they are not reading this).
The sermon is at the heart of Sydney Anglicanism, and the focus of our meetings or services (choose the word according to your regional dialect), yet it’s not a subject that I have ever read much about in this journal.
The sermon is big business. We will spend two million hours this year listening to sermons according to the back of an envelope on my desk. Hundreds of thousands of hours are involved in writing them. A lot of the dollars given in this Diocese goes to pay for sermon production; it’s a labour intensive industry. And they do it to move our hearts and minds, fellow pew-sitters.
This column is about listening to this vast output. The art of listening to sermons is talked about a lot less than the science of giving them. Unless we listen to parliament for fun the only other time we listen to a speech for as long is the classroom or lecture theatre.
But preaching is not lecturing. It doesn’t matter if the guy who lectured me at university loved me or not. But it makes all the difference at church.
So we should cry. We should get angry. Even incredulous. Emotion isn’t for the Pentecostals alone. If we believe the truth content of our sermons is higher, then so much more should we be moved.
Yet I am as guilty as the guy in the next pew at adopting a merely intellectually curious approach to a sermon. “I wonder if I will find out what 2 Peter is all about?”
The trick is that I might find out more than I bargain for: the Bible has a habit of being full of good advice. I cut myself on it all the time.
The Sydney style of preaching – expositional – has certain advantages for the listener. It can help you stay awake. That’s not one of the reasons it is promoted at Moore College as far as I am aware. If you have nodded off you can get back on track quite easily.
Now what about boring preachers? In typically frank style, Phillip Jensen wrote recently, “If students are just out of college, they’re boring. If you’re not boring just out of college, you didn’t learn enough in college. It’s when you’re five years out and you’re still boring that you have a problem.” So we have it on good authority that there will be boring preachers. How do we do that?
If they are long on facts and short on application – ask them “What does this mean to my life?’ or ‘can you give some examples?’. You are probably more tactful than this column so you can say these things gently. But it’s the congregation’s job to train their preacher too (it’s okay, they are not reading this).
John Sandeman has been making smart remarks about Sydney Anglicans for years. This column might force him to be more careful. But as a long term Fairfax employee he is used to being put on trial for his faith, sometimes gently. His regular pew is at St James’, Croydon, which is not to blame for his attitudes.