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Friday, September 30, 2005

Boring Preaching or Bored OF Preaching

One of my goodest friends and compadres, the Rev. Todd Peperkorn, of Kenosha, WI wrote this very honest post in his blog, The Lutheran Logomaniac. He talks of being in a sermon funk, or being tired of preaching.

As another youngish preacher, I know what he's talking about. On the one hand, I enjoy preaching. It is rewarding to craft sermons on the holy texts of our faith. But I also find it very difficult at times.

I think that Pr. Peperkorn has some insightful responses to his own predicament. One being, "Receive." He says a pastor needs to hear preaching himself. Absolutively. Although the logistics of that are not easy. And while most pastors really like to talk, they don't always know how to hear. Gotta work on that. In our office, we give God's gifts to people. As sinners, we need those same gifts. A lot of us Lutheran-types are good at preaching the gospel of forgiveness to others, but not so great at grasping it for ourselves. It's hard to preach to yourself.

I'd add a couple of reflections to Pr. Peperkorn's.

Things that impair my ability to preach and what to do about them:

  • Flutter. The dictionary defines "flutter" this way: To move quickly in a nervous, restless, or excited fashion; flit. Yep. Been there; done that. This is one way to derail preaching.

  • Being pulled in a hundred directions at once. Running around without taking time to smell the roses and re-fuel. This is true spiritually. But also physically, emotionally and intellectually. If I don't adequately recharge, I run out of juice.

    (Qualification: This is not alwasy the case. Sometimes, ironically, I have found that being insanely busy can cause me to focus. But usually, at least for me, it has the opposite effect.)

    Clutter. By this I mean mental clutter. I am easily distracted. I also have a wide variety of interests. So I usually am in the middle of three or four books, a half dozen journals, plus all the cares and concerns of church and family.

    In one respect, this can be good as it actually feeds my preaching. I read widely, in part, because it helps me have a clearer perspective on the world and our place in it. Being well-read and well-informed is also useful for illustrative purposes in sermon writing.

    Yet, as both a reader and a writer, I am coming to value simplicity more and more. Not simple in the sense of easy, but in the sense of being unpretentious. A sermon may be brilliant and poetic, but if it is too self-conscious the sermon can interfere with the whole purpose of preaching.

  • Sputter. The dictionary definition is: To spit out words or sounds in an excited or confused manner. By this, I mean the inability to write clear articulate prose that faithfully expounds the Biblical text while simultaneously addressing both the general and specific needs of the congregation.

  • I think we preachers need to recognize that a sermon must be written for the ear, not the eye. To be heard, not primarily to be read. When you are reading text on a page, you can pause, consider, reread words and phrases, something you cannot do sitting in the pew listening to me talk. It is much more important to be clear than to be clever. It is much more important to be understood than to be sophisticated. Of course, those are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but it is pointless to sacrifice being understood by your average hearer for literary excellence or oratorical profundity.

    Having said all that, neither am I in favor of “dumbing down” the message. Why does every John Doe think he should be able to enter a church service for the first time in eons and find everything instantly 100% comprehensible?

    The gospel is so simple, even a small child can understand it. And yet, the Scriptures are so wise, an entire lifetime is not long enough.

I am not old enough or wise enough to counsel any other preachers about the craft. I've got enough to tend to with Scott Stiegemeyer. I may judge what you say, but I will be quite hesitant to criticize how you say it. While substance is central, style is not irrelevant. The pendulum must not swing too far in either direction. Your style may not work for me with my congregation and mine may flop in yours.

Boring Preaching or Bored OF Preaching. The hardest thing, next to properly unwrapping the gospel in the text, is being . . . interesting. Week after week. Interesting but not cliche.

Once in a while, some humble parish pastor's preaching will be compared to the dynamic radio guy. Doctrine aside, people have to keep in mind that a lot of those celebrity preachers do little else. Does anyone really think that Dr. Charles Stanley still visits shut-ins? Or that D. James Kennedy has to put aside his sermon composition because he's got 3 unexpected hospital visits to make, two out-of-the-blue counseling sessions and a funeral?

I'm not complaining. Preaching is a strange vocation. It is holy, challenging, rewarding and unrewarding. It is a burden and a joy.

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Scot K. said...

Flutter, clutter, sputter. I think someone should have you write an article or maybe a book.

But seriously, you identify some great points here. I have found that *doing* the work of a pastor was always my best motivator and organizer for preaching. Having been away from that work, I find preaching that much more difficult. This may sound strange to hear, maybe more for those outside the ministry, but I was more focused in my preaching the week I had a funeral, or with a baptism in view, or unexpected hospitalization of a member. When doldrume hit, and they inevitably did, these "events" had a tendency to bring purpose and focus to the telling of the same old story (we really do have only one).

If everything continues to move along, it seems that, at least part-time, I will be doing the work of ministry once again, preaching and all. I can't wait.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Hello Pr. Kinnaman,

Welcome to the blogosphere.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Pr. Kinnaman,
As a new blogger, you may like to see this post I wrote a while back:

It is a list of helpful links for those bloggers just starting out.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Oh, and I'd be happy to write a book.

Dave P said...


Interesting comments on how Pastor's have to kind of get "psyched" (can you tell I played high school sports at one time) when things get stale. I agree with Pastor K's observation that "the story is the same". Too many times in the attempt to make the "story" more exciting or more of a show preachers, especially TV preachers or what I call the happy and clappy's of preaching focus on entertainment and less of true content of the gospel. They are into moral "today" issues and it is all about how "we" feel and am "I" right with God instead of focusing on the cross the free will and grace. Man if it is all about me then I'm in big trouble. I could go on but I'll spare you--I hope you get the gist of what I'm trying to say.

Dave P.

Kurt Wall said...

Pr. Stiegemeyer, it might have been your point, but the common element in flutter, sputter, and clutter is "utter."

As to the challenge of uttering utter truths, it always helps to have an attentive congregation.

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