I had a talk with a retired preacher the other day. He told me he did not like the way everyone preaches today. He said it feels like sitting through Bible studies rather than hearing a sermon.
I asked him what he meant by the distinction he was making there.
He said that in his preaching career, when he was working up a sermon, he started with the human concerns. In his seminary, his professor had given him a list of 34 areas of life that all people are concerned about. He’d been taught to consult that list every now and then to make sure he was not neglecting any of them.
When it came time to preach, he’d start with one of these areas of human concern — how do I deal with disappointment, for instance — and build a sermon that answers that question by drawing on one or more texts of the Bible.
The retired preacher told me what frustrates him about the practice of lectionary preaching — which he notes was just becoming popular in the seminaries when he was coming up — is that is so rarely speaks to him about things he’s really worried about.
What does any of that have to do with me? This was his question, not as a disinterested lay person with only passing interest in his faith but as a member of the preaching fraternity now retired.
He said he listens to sermons that are often wonderfully crafted and powerfully delivered and he wonders whether anything that was said really connects to anything pressing or of deep concern to his life.
My entire ministry has been spent in a time in which the kind of preaching this retired minister practiced during his whole ministry was discouraged as non-biblical. Talking with him, though, did get me wondering if his point was not one that I should take closer to heart.