Every second counts…

Well, I did it!

I created a 15 minute sermon after a bit of judicious pruning. Could I have said more? Probably. Should I have said more? Probably not. What I delivered I think worked but I suspect it was a very different style of sermon from usual. Hard to say since I’ve only heard David a couple of times and that’s too little information to ‘categorise’ someone.

I’ve been thinking a bit of what my ‘style’ is. Not sure if I really have one but what drives me is twofold (and that in a cycle of interconnectedness) – theologically-sound exegesis and biblically-sound application. I like to explore the meaning of a passage: its genre; its context; its history; its culture; its ‘story’. I then try and relate that to our present circumstance and draw out a lesson for us to follow. This means that I tend to spend more time on what might be considered the academic side (the exegesis) than on the anecdotal (the application). I struggle with anecdotes. Some people work them in naturally, with others it can sound horribly contrived. I dislike looking for an anecdote that ‘fits’. Generally because they’ve probably already done the rounds on the internet and, for me, lose their impact. That doesn’t mean I don’t use them, but only sparingly and only when they really fit. The other thing is that I tend to use only personal ones (for the same reason as above) but my wife complains that that I’m then turning the attention on myself. It’s a fair criticism even it that’s not my intention.

All this means that there is a risk of my preaching style being a bit ‘dry’ and ‘academic’. To a degree that’s a reflection of ‘me’ – it’s what I like to hear. But not all the time and that, I suppose, is where a balance has to be struck. That’s when I enjoy doing the ‘powerpoint thing’ and throwing in the odd video or sound clip – because there are others who do the inspirational, uplifting, thoughtful ‘thing’ so much better than I do.

Hmmm…. maybe 15 minutes of my style is more than enough.

8 responses to “Every second counts…”

  1. Well done you!
    The use of anecdotes is interesting in sermons. My dad almost always starts with a joke, never a good joke, to let the congregation settle down. I never tell jokes in my sermon. I tend to more serious and ’emotive’ perhaps.
    I don’t mind using anecdotes from books, the net or wherever. I always figure that most people don’t sit looking for sermon illustrations online, or if they have heard the story before it won’t be in the context I’ll use it in so they might look at it through fresh eyes.
    There is always a danger when talking about yourself I think. It can either seem self-depricating, which wears after a while, or perhaps a little pompus (not that you would ever go for the ‘When I was being brilliant…’). I think that it is easier for people to apply the general to themselves than to apply a lesson you learned to their situation. Is that fair?

  2. I think using well-known anecdotes to illustrate something new or unexpected can be very powerful. It’s not unlike Jesus’ method of teaching. He often used a well-known story and changed the emphasis or the ending to make a different point. It was the unexpectedness (and often the radical-ness) of the change that created the impact.
    I do agree on the application from personal experience. Assuming that what works for you should work for everyone is very arrogant and fails to recognise our differences. That said, it can often be seen by others as an encouragement – “well, someone else managed it”.
    There are no hard and fast rules I guess but integrity of self is important – there’s no point in being someone you’re not (eg – a comedian when you’re just not funny). I guess that’s what part of this process is all about – discovering more about who I am in order to present myself honestly to others. Without that honesty and integrity you can’t gain authority and trust.

  3. Anecdotes are fine provided that they are not self serving. I’ve used illustations from pastoral incidents where I have either kept it anonymous or have sought permission to quote someone. It helps to make sermons personal, and we all hope that people go away thinking that we have moved people to some positive spiritual action.
    Categorising people isn’t always helpful. We do that with God sometimes and he surprises us by speaking to us out of our comfort zone. Doing that with people can limit our understanding of individuals and can erect barriers that are difficult to break down later. I say this knowing full well that I did this as a student, seeking out the ‘sound’ preachers etc.

  4. David,
    Didn’t mean to suggest I was trying to categorise you. As you say and as we’ve already discussed, labels are very unhelpful and can be limiting. But people tend to have a ‘style’ (perhaps that’s a better word) and I was trying to suggest that our styles of preaching are possibly quite different.
    (I’ll stop digging now I’m in a hole)

  5. John, no need to worry about ‘hole digging’ ! Styles will vary from minister to minister because we are all, thank God, different. My style is more of a narrative style of preaching (which is based on the text that the lectionary throws up) which will vary with your more analytical interpretive style.
    Occasionally I go for the structured analysis by preaching through a letter. (In the past I’ve done a brief series on Job for instance.) It’s good for the congregation to get a variation, as well as fopr me to hear someone else preach. It is a rare privilege as you will probably find out !

  6. As a body in the pew I can say with certainty that there’s nothing irks more than the anecdotes which start with “a friend of mine was…”/”a friend of mine said…” type illustrations because said ‘friend’ inevitably means wife or child and the full flush on the wife’s face is enough of a giveaway! Thankfully a certain minister no longer favours this style of anecdote (need a winking smilie here!) Being serious though, I like anecdotes/illustrations etc – I think like David said, that it makes the sermon more personal and provides an illustration of how you can translate the sermon into real life. Having listened to lots of sermons over the years I would have to agree with you John that the really important thing is for the person to be comfortable with the style they’re using. If it sounds contrived or if the person seems uncomfortable people soon switch off. Here endeth my ramblings!

  7. Pauline,
    Thanks for your contribution. Feel free to ramble any time. How long did it take him – sorry, a certain minister – to learn the lesson? And what did you threaten him with?
    The more I think about anecdotes, the more I think that there’s a necessity for them to be ‘personal’. I don’t mean in the sense that they have to have happened to you, but that you have first-hand knowledge of them or that they make sense in your context. For example, tonight at a dedication service, David used some golfing references. They work for him because he’s a golfer (and those who were there knew this about him). I don’t golf so if I tried to use them they’d obviously be contrived and false-sounding. < thinking out loud > Then again, as an unknown person, could I use any anecdote and get away with it? I don’t think so because unless I was a particularly gifted storyteller, I don’t think I could tell it with enough conviction and with the correct nuances. Hmmm … more thought required < /thinking out loud >

    ps ; ) without the space in between should produce a 😉

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