For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Matt Woodley.
Matt Woodley is managing editor for PreachingToday.com. He is also the Pastor of Compassion Ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois. He is also the author of God With Us: The Gospel of Matthew (IVP).
Today we chat with Matt about the importance of PreachingToday.com, relevance of the Sunday sermon, and being yourself.
Some have questioned the utility of services like Preaching Today, saying that, at best, they enable laziness on the part of pastors and at worst, plagiarism. How would you answer that?
Well, a website like PreachingToday.com certainly could be used to enable laziness AND plagiarism—just as you could use a brick to build a house or smash it through a window. Just to be clear, we are very anti-laziness and anti-plagiarism. However, we intentionally post sermon manuscripts because we feel that reading sermons has a number of practical benefits for the preacher. They serve as models for excellent preaching. In particular, a manuscript shows how a preacher organizes, outlines, illustrates, develops a big idea, and so on. Reading manuscripts trains preachers how to construct their own sermons. Manuscripts can also help jump-start your own thinking about a passage or topic. Finally, sermon manuscripts by good preachers are often a good "devotional" read.
Illustrations are another matter. I tell our subscribers, "Go ahead and use them as is and don't give us the credit. We cite everything, so go look up the original citation if you want to. We want to do the research legwork for you. So let us make you look smart." I know some preachers who are so worried about using someone else's illustrations, and then they end up talking about their kids or their spouse Sunday after Sunday. Do you really think that's a superior way to illustrate the text? Please, let PreachingToday.com—or someone else—expand your horizons.
With the proliferation of smart phones, it seems pastors are being "fact-checked" more often. What counsel do you give pastors to keep up with this?
I'd offer some fairly obvious advice here: Take a little extra time to fact-check your illustrations. Many illustrations are outside a pastor's field of expertise, but there's no excuse for not trying to do your homework. A few quick Google searches are sometimes all it takes. Also, talk to smart people in your congregation before you preach. I spent ten years in a really smart university town on Long Island. The congregation was filled with professors and just plain brilliant folks who would fact-check me on the spot. I just got defensive until I tried a different strategy: I'd go to those expert/fact-checkers before my sermon and ask, "So, Bob, you're a professor of biochemistry, what do you think of this illustration about DNA?" They loved giving me advice. Finally, I'd say this: When you make a mistake, don't get defensive. Be a learner. Be appreciative. Turn it into an opportunity to show your limitations and that fact-checker's competence.
In this entertainment age, some have questioned the traditional preaching format as outdated. Others are saying it is more relevant than ever. Is there is still a place in our culture for the Sunday sermon?
Oh, yes, there is. I have this amazing faith in what I call "the folly of preaching"—the power of one person standing before other people in public worship, humbly but boldly proclaiming, "Folks, based on this portion of Scripture, this is what God has to say to this congregation for today." The sermon could take five minutes or 45-minutes (although I like shorter sermons), but the act of preaching takes guts. It takes winsomeness. It takes amazing creativity. But it's also a work of the Holy Spirit, because in the end you can't change anyone. Your words are really small and pathetic. Every preacher is like that little boy in John 6 who offers Jesus a few loaves and fishes. But in the end, something happens. God works in a mysterious, powerful, but often hidden and quiet way through the consistent, faithful exposition of his Word. I feel sorry for preachers who think preaching is outdated. If you look at the history of Scripture and the history of the church, I just can't imagine how anyone could say that preaching is defunct.