Saturday, December 09, 2006

Non-Excellence in Preaching

I am not happy with my preaching thus far at church this year. This is not self-abasement, just honesty. I am able to evaluate my work and be unthrilled with it without spinning out into self-hatred. I assume my congregants notice, and I am left to conclude that they're forebearing enough to accept the lack of greatness.* This is what it means to settle somewhere. You abide together in covenant and don't expect excellence all the time, just good faith effort and care.

God knows I make an effort and put care into worship preparation. But my thoughts just haven't emerged as clearly and my writing hasn't progressed as coherently as in the past. I have only really loved two sermons I've given yet since September.

What's kind of ridiculous is that because of my doctoral work, I'm studying and thinking and writing more about ministry and religion than ever before. I am deeply into it. Maybe it's all up too close to my face and making me less organized in my thinking and preaching. Maybe the fruits of this labor have yet to emerge in my preacher's life. That's what I'm counting on.

Another factor: we made an adjustment to our Second Sunday liturgy that was supposed to provide an opportunity for a monthly lay homily, whose thoughts I would respond to in my own homily that week. This vision has proven much harder to fulfill than to create. I have found that it is very, very hard to recruit lay preachers, and that this service requires a lot more time and conversation than I had counted on.

There is a lot of change at church this year: a new Music Director, a new Student Minister, a new Director of Youth Programming, and new layleaders in key positions. Everything is going well and happily, but change is change. It takes a lot of psychic energy.

I am in class up to six hours a week, with travel time 45 minutes each way, at a minimum. This will go down to three hours once every two weeks next semester, with no big papers and exams.

I am re-working an old sermon for tomorrow morning. It was fine the way it was. I don't know why I started monkeying with it. Note to preachers: don't bother using old sermons. It's more work to edit and renew them than it would be to start with a blank sheet.

God give me the strength to get through this week. I have a paper due by Thursday, a take-home exam due the same day, and class on Tuesday and on Thursday morning. Also the sniffles.

Most Christmas shopping is done, thankya Jesus. Glad I did so much in August!

* Um, not that I'm great. I mean greatness in the relative PeaceBang scheme of things. But as you preachers out there know... sometimes what we think is terrific is awful for the congregation. Sometimes what we think didn't go well really worked on their hearts. It's a mystery, really. But we all do have our own internal standards, and should.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, with some slight "fame" as a preacher I will just say -- as one wise old minister said to me many years ago -- you probably have only two to four sermons a year that really come to you, are great, and complete, and the best they can be. Some people love will be style over substance, and you will know that, but that's OK because there have to be some of those. Some will just be workmanlike (workpersonlike?) for the occasion, because you have to churn one out every seven days, and that's OK too. The only thing not OK is not to try, and not to care.

The blessing is that someone (even if it's just one) gets something (even if it's the opposite of what you really said) out of every single sermon. True, after 42 years, I can attest.

Blogger ms. kitty said...

PeaceBang, I think we all have this happen to us. Just live through it and it will all come back.

I know that when I am writing a sermon, sometimes it just takes off in its own direction and what I say on Sunday bears very little resemblance to what I told the newsletter editor I was going to talk about. Sometimes those sermons are my best.

And then there are the times when I've just stumbled through and somebody comes up afterwards and tells me that it was exactly perfect for her/him.

Of course, then there are the other times when someone comes to me afterwards and says, "I just loved it when you said tadum tadum tadum" and I smile and say thank you and think "when the hell did I say tadum tadum tadum?" but the miracle has been that the person heard what they needed to hear.

Blogger Ian said...

PB, I was going to write something similar to the two comments you already received, but couldn't think of the right way to say it and also figured that you already knew it, so I was going to just send you an encouraging word.

THEN I see that two other preachers re-affirmed the mystery that is preaching. I guess it is true that we all have those moments when God preaches what needs to be preached despite our feelings about the sermon itself. I suppose that in the end the sermon doesn't matter, but the preaching is essential.

Anonymous jinnis said...

I concurr with all of the above and -

I think your observation that you are doing a lot of absorbing information right now is true - "ideas in the raw" will emerge as more formed and coherent later. That is part of the benefit to the congregation for their support of you during your studies.

I've been using some greatest hits sermons to get back in the grove of weekly preaching - and some of the sermons serve more as inspiration than actual final product.

You make a very important point about covenantal relationships, PB - not every meal is four star, nor does it have to be, but the church will know if it misses one. With all the staff and other changes, getting up every week to give a decent, but not spectacular, service may be what needs to happen right now. I have no doubt that you will make time for sermon study as soon as possible. If you need another opinion, it might be worth chatting with your leadership about how they read the year so far.

Blogger jean said...

I don't know why I even save my old sermons. I have preached from the same passage several times, but it's never the same. Like it's easier to sew an outfit from scratch than to alter one to fit.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stick with the lay homily project--it just takes time to develop that kind of capacity in lay leaders, especially those who haven't really written for worship before!


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