Her words caught me by surprise. One of my students suggested I preach with more energy and intensity.
I struggled to silence my inner chuckle. Of all the criticisms I’ve ever heard of my preaching, lacking energy or intensity was not among them.
But I quickly remembered walking toward the sanctuary with a guest preacher years ago. As we walked up the hallway, he asked me how long my sermons usually were. “12-18 minutes,” I told him.
“Well, I’ve got 25 minutes worth, so they better be ready to listen for 25 minutes today.”
I cannot imagine sermon preparation beginning with an expectation that the congregation will listen to whatever I say, for as long as I keep saying it. To me, the primary underlying thought that I try to keep in mind for preaching is whether or not what I want to say wants to be heard.
Surely, good preaching tells us things we really don’t want to hear. But it finds ways to do so that invite us in, draw us close, build our trust. Expecting someone to listen because you are preaching is the church equivalent of “because I said so!” This doesn’t work really well with anyone over 8; I am not sure why we think it ought to work with adults in worship.
Even moreso: I don’t want to convey the idea that we serve a “Because I told you so!” kind of God.
This youth and I talked some more. I was hoping to figure out what she meant so that I might do something about it.
You see, I suppose my real primary underlying principle is to try to stay in touch with more than what I am saying – I am concerned with what I am communicating. This means I have to take my audience into account.
This is true not just for sermons, but in every relationship. I remember many times being misunderstood, and asked for clarification, when the next thing out of my mouth were the same exact words I had just used to miscommunicate. The second time, perhaps, I would say them more slowly, or louder.
If someone doesn’t understand something you’ve said, and you want them to, do you merely repeat exactly the same words over and over again, or do you find a different way to articulate it?
If what you are saying is not communicating what you want it to, you may very well have to say something different, or differently.