Three chief faults of conference sermons.

I recently sat through a barrage of pulpit fireworks at an evangelistic meeting. Each of the oratories had been honed to excellence the previous 100 times the sermon had been delivered:

Some were cute,

Some were cozy;

Some seemed brusque

And awf’ly nosy.

But in keeping with the tripartite speeches I heard that day, let me proceed to describe the chief faults of conference sermons.

I want to declare at the outset that not every sermon must, like Gaul, be divided into three parts—two less may be preferable. I have always agreed with the wag who, when asked how many points a sermon should have, promptly replied, “At least one.”

If “triptyching” the sermon makes clear the single point to which the sermon aspires, then three divisons are fine as long as the three are one. But more complex outlining may degenerate into a polypointalism where unity is disjointed by one thunderous imperative after another. In the interest of better conference preaching, I offer you, of course, three points—and a poem.

First of all, let us consider the cute sermon. Like a Mercedes, it is all grill, chrome spokes, and hubcaps. It isn’t designed to go anywhere or carry any loads—it is a conversation piece. It may have a poetic outline, such as God’s love:

A love with flaws,

A love without pause,

And a love without cause.

Or it may have a flashy title such as “The Penitent Prodigal Pining in a Pig Pen.” It may abound in cleverisms that fascinate without contribution. Such sermons are ever popular at conferences since they tend to summon reluctant delegates from the bookstores and corridors that surround the main arena.

The second kind of conference sermon is more cozy. It is a snuggling session in which identity is the issue. The “we” feeling is the aim. This kind of sermon is not preached by a Jeremiah who is fond of company. A popular pulpit agenda offers the great rapport of TV talk shows and says, “Feel along with me for 30 minutes or so.” The preacher of the cozy sermon likes snuggling into the down of psychological fuzzies that keeps the thermostat set on togetherness so nobody is asked to stand apart from the group.

The third type comes from conference speakers who seem courageous enough to run the risk of preaching the brusque and nosy sermon. A better name for this one might be the “command and decision” sermon. It is a real burr under the saddle of our security. It seems to originate in another world and set of values, and it makes us uncomfortable with ourselves.

Naturally we turn from such sermons to those that are cute and cozy. But the brusque and nosy sermon sometimes leads to brokenness and evaluation of ourselves that make us remember God’s purposes in our lives. Cheers for this sort! It opens even the most mundane conference to the possibility of really hearing from God.

Oh yes, a poem (for those in the cute category):

A brilliant young pastor named Smeedy, A.B., M.Div., and yes, D.D.,

Preached sermons most cozy

On subjects so rosy

He passed by the spiritual needy.

Author Calvin Miller is pastor of the Westside Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska.

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