Posts Tagged ‘Church’

We hear it all the time, “Pastor you really preached this morning. That was a GREAT sermon!” But, was it really a great sermon? How can we tell? Many times people make statements like this because the message addressed an issue they were currently dealing with. That’s one of the great blessings of the Word of God – it is living and it touches us right where we live. However, that leaves a great deal of subjectivity when it comes to analyzing the merits of the transmission of the message. Quite honestly, it is entirely possible to have a great message and a terrible sermon. The sermon is the vehicle the preacher uses to transport the message God has given to him or her, and the preacher must be careful not to allow the vehicle to get in the way of the message.

One of the opportunities the Lord has blessed me with is to serve as an adjunct professor at Carolina Christian College, where I teach courses in the field of homiletics. Homiletics is the art and science of preaching. Preaching is an art form. God uses all of who He created us to be in the preaching process. That’s why you will never find two sermons that are exactly the same – because there are no two people who are exactly the same. However, while preaching is an art, it is also a science. In other words, there is (or at least should be) some methodology to the preaching process.

It is extremely important for the preacher to engage in the process of regularly evaluating his or her sermon…because the congregation already is! For every person who says, “Great sermon, pastor” there are five who walk by thinking that it was the worst thing they ever heard. That should not discourage the preacher, but should inspire him or her to continually strive to improve and develop his or her craft. Preaching is a life-long call, and it involves a life-long process. Any preacher who is not seeking to improve his or her ministry is doing the congregation (and ultimately, the call) a disservice.

When it comes to evaluating the sermon, there are six key elements that form a rubric from the acrostic: PREACH.

Punctuality

One of the most important elements of a sermon is time. Great sermon content can be easily overshadowed by poor time-management. When it comes to time-management, err on the side of caution. Oftentimes, less is more. Of all the thousands of sermons I’ve heard or have preached I can count on one hand (with fingers to spare) the times I’ve heard someone complain that the sermon was too short. As the old adage goes, “The mind can only absorb what the behind can endure.” People in the audience no longer want to suffer through hour-long sermons of preachers proving how smart they are and how much they’ve studied. You don’t have to preach the whole Bible in one sermon. The good thing about Sundays is that they come every week. Save a little for the next one.

Relevance

As stated earlier, people are moved by the message when it speaks to where they are. The goal of preaching is  contemporizing timeless truths and make them relevant to the audience of today. This does not in any way involve changing the timeless truths, but it does involve packaging them in such a way that the audience can understand. It is, in essence, what Jesus did. Jesus used parables as a way of packaging the principles of the Kingdom so His audience could grasp them and apply them to their context. A perfectly constructed sermon that lacks relevance is merely a lecture. Preaching must connect with the audience.

Exegesis

Exegesis simply means exploring and interpreting the text. Far too many sermons have no biblical foundation. The Bible remains the road map for every good sermon. If the preacher does not follow the map, the audience is bound to get lost. Preachers must stay true to the biblical text if their message is to maintain any substance. The role of the preacher is not to preach his or her opinion but to preach God’s opinion, and God’s opinion is found in His Word. I’m very leery of preachers who consistently ignore the Word or just read it as a formality at the beginning of the sermon and spend the entire sermon talking about everything but that scripture. Good preaching is biblical preaching.

Appearance

You may be wondering what appearance has to do with a good sermon. The reality is that people see you before the hear you, and your appearance can either help or hinder the sermon. You never want your suit to get more attention than your sermon. Don’t be too flashy, and certainly don’t be too shabby. Your appearance must be appropriate for your audience. Also, for God’s sake, please use an iron. It’s hard for your audience to hear you talk about “a church without spot or wrinkle” when your clothes are full of them! Watch your appearance…because the congregation is.

Clarity

The greatest sermon has no effect if people don’t understand it. Sermons must be CLEAR in order for people to HEAR. Some preachers treat sermons like doctoral theses, but sermons are designed to reach the “least of these.” Like my pastor, Bishop Alfred Owens, always taught me, “We must always remember that we are feeding sheep…not giraffes.” The goal is not to be high and lofty in our preaching, but to preach with clarity and simplicity so the sheep can graze on the Word.

HEAT!

Preaching must be done with passion! This is not a matter of style, but it is a matter of conviction. The preacher must preach like he or she believes the message…or no one else will. When we preach with conviction…the message is convicting. The purpose of preaching is to produce a change. When we bring the heat, we are stirring the congregation toward positive change. Listless preaching leads to lifeless congregations. Preach with passion, and God’s power will manifest!

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Churches across America celebrated “Hoodie Sunday” in honor of slain youth, Trayvon Martin. This sign of solidarity was designed to continue to raise awareness regarding the teen’s death and to demand justice for his killing. George Zimmerman, Trayvon’s confessed killer, remains free and has yet to be arrested for his crime. His claim of self-defense is simply indefensible.

Even more troubling is the injustice perpetrated by the local authorities and the ignorance perpetrated by national media members like Geraldo Rivera. Mr. Rivera, in an interview on Fox News (shocker), claimed that Trayvon’s hoodie was as much to blame for his death as Geroge Zimmerman. There is no way that such idiocy and victim-blaming should ever be allowed on national TV!

My response to Mr. Rivera on Twitter was that Trayvon’s hoodie was no more to blame for his death than the chair was to blame that was used to break Mr. Rivera’s nose back when he had his own show and was somewhat relevant. To blame an inanimate object for the death of a child is simply a ploy to absolve responsibility from his real killer and the real reason why he was killed.

So I join with the thousands who have donned hoodies in their online profile pics and will wear their hoodies to church, but as many of my colleagues in the clergy have mentioned we must ensure that this is not simply a sign…but a start. We must start a movement to continually address injustice against people of all color, especially those who cannot speak for themselves. Therefore, if we are going to rep our ‘hoods’ we need to know what the hood represents.

1. A hoodie is designed to COVER.

Lost in all of Mr. Rivera’s blame of the hoodie for Trayvon’s death is the reality that he was wearing it because it was raining! A hoodie is designed to cover and protect from the elements. It covers the head to protect from the sun, the wind, and the rain. Unfortunately, it could not protect Trayvon from the profiling of an overzealous neighborhood watchman who decided to bring a gun to a Skittle fight.

2. A hoodie is designed to CONCEAL.

One normally dons a hoodie when he or she would rather travel under the radar and be incognito. A hoodie says, “I don’t want to be bothered today. I’d rather be left alone.” Unfortunately, Mr. Zimmerman didn’t get Trayvon’s hint. He just wanted to enjoy his Skittles and iced tea in peace. He wasn’t expecting an all out war. Trayvon’s hoodie couldn’t conceal Zimmerman’s bias, and it definitely could not conceal the bigotry that has no doubt played a part in the authorities’ refusal to arrest him.

3. A hoodie is designed for COMFORT.

There are few things more comfortable to throw on when running to the store than a hoodie. The wool just feels good on the skin and the protective hood just feels good covering your head. While Geraldo Rivera claimed hoodies are worn by ‘gangstaz’ he neglected to mention the many athletes, law enforcement officials, celebrities, and law-abiding citizens who wear them everyday. We wear them because they’re comfortable. Unfortunately, Trayvon’s parents can’t take comfort knowing that the man who killed their son for wearing a hood is still free to continue to watch the neighborhood.

That sounds like the work of another group who is famous for walking around The South in hoods.