Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why not publish sermons

The other day I listened to one of the programs for the Walla Walla Camp meeting 2009. It was on Preaching presented by Dave Thomas. It was mainly about the ways to prepare and deliver sermons. I did think it was interesting that the reason he feels that Preaching sermons is still the best method is because it is Biblical. That is preaching is mentioned in the New Testament. I would argue the usefulness of sermons in the modern information age is not all that useful. I mean really the Bible mentions nothing about Christians writing books yet Christians have probably written millions of books. We don’t really say that books aren’t useful because they are not Biblical. Culture and times change the way we do things…so just because something is Biblical does not mean it should continue with the same emphasis as it had in Biblical times.

But for now we are all subject to sermons because we fear change and fear trying new things. So continuing on the subject of preparing sermons Dave Thomas talks about the amount of time it takes to create a good sermon. 20-40 hours is the amount of time he indicates is needed to prepare the sermon. I find that hard to believe that most any sermon I have heard in the last 20 years of my life has taken 20 hours of preparation let alone 40 but let us assume that 20 hours is the average amount of time a pastor spends preparing a sermon. That is a good deal of work.

So why don’t they publish their sermons? In the computer age most all sermons should be written on computers, even the people who go against Dave Thomas’ instructions and only make an outline and don’t write our their sermons should have the outline in electronic form. They go through all this work give a sermon and that’s it, maybe some will record it to tape and maybe a few will put them on mp3 for download but hardly any publish the written sermon. What may take an hour to listen to can be skimmed for the key points in 10 minutes in written form. If it seems interesting or useful one can read the whole thing or listen to a download. (I think tapes are really outdated but maybe a few older people still like them.) With blog technology it is so easy to publish I can see practically no reason for sermons not to be posted in written form. I think the local church would benefit from posting sermons and distant people would benefit also.

There is one reason in the preparation for preaching program that Dave Thomas mentioned that might explain why preachers are not posting their written sermons. That reason is that sermons are often very personal. The person who gives a sermon feels particularly vulnerable right after giving a sermon. So they may likely feel vulnerable publishing their sermon. I don’t think that would be a good excuse if they really put in the work to prepare a good sermon and if they feel that God had something for them to say. I also think it would be useful because then the criticism of a sermon which people would not likely give to a preacher can be given in a less personal way. In other words it would be a way to get feed back and to improve the preachers reasoning or facts. I think of one sermon I heard where the person said that in ancient days people built lamps into their sandals (thy word is a lamp unto my feet). It is pretty funny when you think about it and it did spur me to see if there was any evidence for such a thing. There is not but I would guess that person is still using it

So publishing might be a little scary that people will point out your errors but if we are really searching for truth let us point out the errors and let the preacher make the corrections and even correct himself in front of the congregation. Maybe that is the first part in changing the sermons, maybe moving from the emotional show, we can move to reasoned arguments and ultimately maybe even dialog with our pastors, who I think are sorely in need of continuing education.


Anonymous said...

With millions of books all ready written what do you hope to gain? Talk is different from writing. Talking (sermons) allows the listener to do reflective thinking at the same time and in a setting which has a different impact on us. Words of encouragement, with some wandering as conversations do, would not make good reading. I have given a few sermons, most are composed as I meditate and rehearse the thoughts in my mind. The outline is just enough to remind me of a set of thoughts.
If the goal is to dispute what is being said and you want it in black and white, then I question the spirit behind your request. If you just want a list of points being made then that is not the real point of a sermon so just go back to reading that which is written for reading.

Ron Corson said...

with millions of sermons given what do you hope to gain? What type of logic is that? Have you ever noticed that the great preachers of the 1800's published books of their sermons. A sermon that wanders like a conversation is not a good sermon as Dave Thomas pointed out in his talk. In fact the way you say you do sermons does not appear to be the method that Dave Thomas would interpret as being a good sermon. Which frankly is the majority of sermons today.

If the goal is to dispute factual errors and incoherent theology why would you think that is the wrong spirit. It is doubtful that that is the only goal but it would be one of the means of correcting foolish statements. Of course a good sermon with good thoughts would then be remembered even better with repeated readings. The point of a sermon should be to reveal a message that the preacher feels God wants them to deliver. It is not to write a book, it is not to repeat what is said in some book either.

But I do think that your narrow focus of just the negative aspects is what a lot of preachers would think about the idea of publishing their sermons. To have their material written down and open to observations and critics is probably too scary for most preachers. And that is sad because we know that people will often hear things that people say that the person never intended to be taken that way. And we know that people have a very difficult time remembering what someone says especially when someone talks for 20 minutes to an hour.

In reality this idea is only applicable to preachers who are willing to push out of their comfort zone, people who want to become relevant to the congregation and the outside world. I have to admit that their numbers are few.

Doug said...

I know a few excellent preachers who write no more than a few notes for their sermons. To ask for a written sermon from them is probably not going to give you the same one you just heard!
To say that a person has difficulty remembering the content of a 20 minute sermon may say something about the attention span of most people and it may indicate a lack of important content in the sermon. Jesus never wrote out his "sermons" as far as we know, but his hearers wrote down what struck them as significant. Incidentally, I have yet to find a place where Jesus "preached" a sermon. He was always in the teaching mode. Matt. 5.2