Thanks to a loyal BJS contributor for finding this post on Pastor Lovett’s ORATIO + TENTATIO + MEDITATIO blog:
I am no different than most pastors. I want to be a good preacher. Now certainly we (myself and other pastors) differ on what that means, to be a good preacher, but I think it nigh impossible to find a preacher who would say that he wishes to be a worse preacher than he already is, though many a preachers’ habits and ways might suggests such to the casual observer. Be that as it may, certainly the vast majority of all preachers would quickly and quite truthfully say that they want to become better preachers. But after some soul searching (yes, soul searching; perhaps with even the theme music from a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie) I have found that I don’t really want to become a better preacher. If I did I would do the work. I’d read books on preaching. I’d listen to good sermons (whatever “good” might be to me); not to copy them – though that’s a start – but to be inspired by them, to mimic them in their goodness. If I really wanted to be a better preacher I’d spend a great time on, well, preaching! But I don’t. And I’d wager most others don’t either.
No, what I really want is to not have to work at being a good or even decent preacher. What I want is to stand up in the pulpit tomorrow and with little or no effort deliver the most powerful, awe-inspiring, soul-changing, life-altering homily that the ears of men have ever been blessed to hear. What I want is to be so endowed with the ability to inspire and impress the audience (those who hear) that I cannot help but be the most marvelous orator since the Greek orators of ancient renown.
In essence: I want to win the lottery of good preaching.
We have succumb to the society around us, we want our best … NOW! Joel Olsteen is such a success – as we all know – because he preaches to itching ears. And we’ve been listening. You don’t have to work at good preaching, just meditate a bit, really want to do it, and be earnest, truly believe you can achieve it and *PRESTO* you’ll have it! Every week we play the lottery. (1) We drive to the local gas station/read the texts; (2) Pick our numbers/do a little exegetical, mostly isogogical work; (3) Pay the $1/write a few ideas down; (4) go home hoping and praying that our number is the winner/wait until Saturday night or Sunday morning to frantically make some sense of nothing. Sometimes we get $10 or $15 dollars, but mostly we will just have wasted our time and our hearers’ time.
Now don’t get me wrong. We all know the joke that since God once spoke out of the mouth of an ass, he can speak out of my mouth. That’s true. But that doesn’t free us from doing the work of an evangelist and so fulfilling our ministry. It simply means that God will have His way with or without us. But we are still accountable.
Usually we buy the lie. We act like we’re rich when we’re not. We preach on credit. That is, we depend on past study, past inspiration, past victories to settle accounts on Sunday morning. We have our favorite catch phrases and prose, so we bank on those. But it’s like paying the $100 minimum payment on your $4,000 maxed out card so you can use it a little each month. You don’t really have the money, but nobody but you knows it. Of course, the only reason you got the card in the first place is because you didn’t have any money, so you borrowed. Eventually, though, you don’t have the $100 to pay the minimum payment and the creditor calls and you loose your TV and everybody knows it: you’re poor and in massive debt!
So it goes with preaching. We don’t have the money to begin with so we borrow from our past or from other pulpits, not doing the work ourselves because it’s too hard or we’re afraid of failure. We’re afraid of not being as good as or with keeping up with the Jones’. Eventually, though, our past becomes too far past and our “creditors” become too foreign to our place in life, and we are faced with the reality that we are poor preachers.
And as there is only one way out of debt, so there is only one way out of being a poor preacher: work. What does that work look like? It looks like prayer, not “lottery-like” prayer, but meditative prayer in the psalms and the breviaries of the Church catholic. It looks like studying the Greek and Hebrew, not only with Bible Works or Libronics (as good as a tool as they are), but struggling to internalize the meanings and endings and all that good stuff. It looks like not using filler in our sermons. Get to the point. If that means you begin to preach 10 minute sermons, then preach them! If the point needs building up to, then build up to it. But if it doesn’t, then don’t. But even here we are tempted to play the Preaching Lottery. We want the work to come naturally, without great effort. We need to repent and do the work of an evangelist.
Mostly we need to pay attention to the Scriptures and to what we preach. Pay attention to your sermons, your words. For by them you will save both yourself and your hearers. The actually delivery of the homily may be easy – maybe not – but the process is work, hard work. It is our work. Let us do it with fervor and spirit, not neglecting to pay careful attention to ourselves and the flock of God over which the Spirit has made us bishops.
Peach the Word.
Rev Mark Lovett
Concordia Lutheran Church