This ad will not display on your printed page.
As a lay person, I've listened to hundreds of sermons. What has made an impact? Obviously a steady diet of consistent biblical preaching has nourished me, but perhaps you'd be interested in the sermons I've particularly savored, whose taste has lingered to this day. Here are some techniques I've seen pastors use with lasting effect in my life.
1. First-person sermons. One Sunday, my husband and I noticed the pastor wasn't on the platform as usual. When the choir finished the presermon anthem, we waited. Then, without preamble, a dark-haired, white-robed angel walked down the aisle from the back of the sanctuary. We were caught off guard by our pastor's unusual Sunday attire and by his sermon-a first-person, heavenly account of the controversial second half of 1 Peter 3. We tuned in.
Another Sunday, our pastor stepped up to the pulpit and began, "I came over the hill, leading my men, and there I saw the city ablaze!" Grief overwhelmed him as he described his family being taken captive. He had our attention, although we weren't sure what exactly he was up to. His method forced us to gather the evidence ourselves and piece together the case. He never broke character (David, as we finally figured out). All of us, children and adults, were caught by surprise, so he kept our full attention. What was the text? First Samuel 30.
2. Simple visual props. One Sunday we awaited the typical sermon introduction. Instead, we were introduced to three chairs on the stage: commitment, conflict, and compromise. Everyone tuned in as we became acquainted with each chair and were asked to make a decision: In which chair would we choose to sit?
Another time, the sermon began as usual, but the sameness ended when the preacher verbally divided up the sanctuary and congregation to represent the geography of his text. "The stage is the Mediterranean Sea. You people in the back are the Dead Sea (laughter). This left side is the Sea of Galilee, and those of you on the right are Egypt." He drew us into the sermon as we concentrated on our part.
3. Congregational involvement. One Sunday as I settled into my comfortable pew, I was unsettled by the pastor's question and subsequent instructions: "What was the lowest point of your week? Please stand up, find someone to talk to, and briefly answer this question." When we had finished, his sermon addressed the question. We all participated in that sermon on Philippians 4.
4. Tangible response. My teenage daughter has a three-by-five card taped to her bathroom mirror: I AM GOD'S SERVANT. WHAT WILL HE HAVE ME DO TODAY? Our pastor tossed out that question before concluding his sermon. He wouldn't let us leave his sermon in the pulpit. In the form of a specific question for us to wrestle with, he sent it with us to our homes and workplaces.
Bulletin inserts with sermon fill-in-the-blank outlines transform my junior high son from a mere spectator into an active listener. (Pencils are stationed beside hymnals in the pew racks.) The outlines also can be referred to during the week or compiled in a notebook for future reference.
5. Talk-back sessions. In some churches, the traditional Wednesday night prayer meeting is exchanged for a sermon review (or preview) night. The pastor leads a discussion on the sermon and its application, and the group provides feedback and ideas. In other churches, where the worship service precedes the Sunday school time, a class focuses on the sermon. The participants can further study the sermon text and apply the sermon personally.
Such approaches needn't become standard fare, a liturgy of creative technique. But when used occasionally, they help me listen to the sermon, which helps me hear the Word of the Lord.
- Naomi Gaede Penner
Centennial Community Church
Leadership Spring 1990 p. 117
Copyright © 1990 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
Click here for reprint information on Leadership Journal.