What’s a Sermon?: A Perspective for People in the Pews (Part 1 of III)?
Your pastor has in mind the decades old addict who turns up each week who he’s sure is about to receive faith for the very first time, the struggling saint who feels incapable of giving up their nightly gossip, and the bleary-eyed suffering servant who has gone through great pain to be here. Preaching is for the one closest to God, furthest from him, and for the preacher himself. Preaching is for the congregation, for a sinful choir who needs to be led to worship God once more.
Once every three weeks I serve in the kid’s service at church—a huge blessing that allows me to share the gospel regularly with the youngest in our midst. The main hall and the kid’s hall sit parallel to one another and share a hallway, so when we take the kids to the toilet, we ask them to stay silent. One day, returning to our hall, I turned to the kids and said, “We need to be quiet now, because the sermon is happening.” They all agreed, zipped their lips, and followed me back. Just before we went entered though, one of the girls turned to me and whispered, “Mr. Adsum, may I ask a question,” to which I nodded. “What’s a sermon?” she asked.
It was a fair question. One I’m sure is shared by members of churches around the world, both young and old. It reminded me of a story I heard a few years ago, of a new Christian turning to the pastor and asking why they sang “Group-Karaoke style” during the service. (In fairness, Karaoke was the new believer’s only experience of seeing words on a screen set to music.)
To many Christians, both new and old, there are likely to be things about the way church works which remain a mystery simply because they feel it’s too awkward to ask a question. Whilst there are hundreds of books on preaching for the edification and education of pastors, these books are usually inaccessible for laymen, and so the question marks remain. Perhaps that’s you?
If so, thank you so much for reading this article. This is the first of three articles, which I hope will help to clear up some misconceptions about preaching, explain how we as church members can support and uphold the work of the preacher, and offer some practical advice on how to get the most out of the sermon each Sunday.
This is the Word of the Lord
Preaching and prayer are intrinsically linked, the former is fed by the latter and fails without it. The preacher must submit himself to the Lord and take seriously the responsibility he has to deliver the word of God faithfully. His work isn’t about feeding his own thoughts and opinion, but rather inviting you to feast on every word which proceeds from the mouth of the Lord (Deut. 8:3). A wonderful example of this pastoral submission is the following prayer from eighteenth-century preacher Augustus Toplady.
Your pardoning voice I come to hear,
To know you as you are:
Your ministers can reach the ear,
But you must touch the heart. (Augustus Toplady, modernized by the writer of the article)
Depending on your denomination or church background, these words—“This is the Word of the Lord”—may be familiar to you. Often spoken after the reading of the Scripture and followed by the sermon. Though some will inevitably become numb to the repetition of these words, their potency, as well as their use in explaining the purpose and practice of preaching, is invaluable.