Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sermons, sermonettes, and true worship

In a recent Worldview Church Digest post by Albert Mohler, Jr, president of Souther Baptist Theological Seminary, he makes the case that the essence of true worship is expository preaching of the Word of God ( =84541713&spReportId=ODQ1NDE3MTMS1) He maintains that the contemporary focus on choruses on the one hand, or large choirs and musicians on the other, and the emphasis on musical presentation has clouded the true purpose of worship and the centrality of preaching. What has been lost, he says, is the robust preaching of the Word of God. He favorably quotes Michael Green: "This is the age of the sermonette, and sermonettes make Christianettes."

There is much in my training and background and theology that has me agreeing with Mohler. Key to my training and development as a pastor from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) was the centrality of the Word of God and the preaching and teaching of that Word. And though my horizons have broadened somewhat since those formative years, and my worship has become more "contemporary" by choice, I still default to exposition of the biblical text in sermons and teaching venues. Yes, I have had to "shorten" the messages and do more thematic or topical messages. But in agreeing theologically with Mohler, I have to give some reservations to his thesis.

First, much of expository preaching is insipid, dry, boring and lifeless. I have been to a lot of churches and conferences, and have listened to a lot of sermons and teaching sessions in my career. I have come away bored and unmoved and uninspired. While detractors would say this is my fault, I would rather protest and say, no, it's the speaker's fault. I listen closely, prayerfully seek to be engaged in the message, have a generally positive attitude about the presenter, and seek to make application to my own life from the messages. But I usually end up bored, unchanged and unmoved. Expositors simply need to preach better!! Especially in an information age where I can see and hear my choice of speakers and sermons and messages.

Second, expository preaching without life-changing application ceases to be what Jesus and the Apostles taught and illustrated and evidenced in their messages. They rebuked, confronted, encouraged, pleaded with, taught, used life illustrations and so forth in their deliveries. I am sure they were not monotone speakers who merely droned on and on and hoped the listeners would "get it." We need more life-changing application and life in general in expository messages.

Third, what can be said in forty-five or fifty minutes can often be said more succinctly and pointedly and with much more memorability in fifteen or twenty minutes. I realize the old adage that homiletics people would say that a presenter needs to make the same point over and over, at least three times, for it to stick. Well, I'm not at all sure about that in a computer and electronic driven age. Younger people used to short texts "get it" with much shorter presentations. And we have the means for them to download messages, interact electronically with sermons and use Facebook and other means to "get it."

Fourth, I maintain that a good message has one central point, not three or five or ten or twenty points. Because of decreasing attentions spans in our congregations, most can take home usually only one central theme or point. Sure, we can seek to apply that point and illustrate that point in a number of ways during the message, but when they leave the meeting, they should have one key and central point ringing in their minds and hearts.

Until our expositors learn how to exposit not merely theologically better, but make better presentations, the centrality of the sermon is in jeopardy.