This past Sunday was a very busy day for me. I taught Life Group (as I always do), preached, and then travelled to Greenbrier (I keep accidentally spelling it Greenbriar….) to lead the NYI portion of the SDMI Training there. Oh and I led a youth and pastoral staff work day on Saturday morning too. Sorry for the really busy weekend Lauren and Lily.
Anyway, I was really excited to be able to preach. Now that we have a Lead Pastor again (which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong!) I don’t get to preach much. As a matter of fact, I’ve preached exactly 3.5 times this entire year (I know, .5? I co-preached with our Lead Pastor!) I feel called to preach and teach, and I really enjoy preaching. I do preach every week to the teens, but it is, admittedly, quite different. Moreover, preaching is something that gets better with experience. I’ve had lots of preaching experience, but I could definitely use more – a pastor could always use more experience, right?!
Alright, well the real purpose for this post is to relay a conviction of mine that was really driven home to me on Sunday. That conviction is this: I am not a topical preacher, period. Now, I’m not judging topical sermons or preachers, but I am saying that I am not a topical preacher. My sermon on Sunday was a topical sermon. I think it went very well. I had good feedback, and I personally felt good about it – but not great. I was asked to fill in and provide the first sermon in a new series that Pastor Mark is preaching. I was asked to introduce the theme of simplicity, with a sermon titled, “The Need For Simple.” I thought about it for some time and typed up my manuscript a couple of weeks ago before we went on vacation (I’m also not a procrastinator!). When it came time to preach on Sunday I felt good, and I think I conveyed the sermon, which I based around Matthew 22: 34-40, well. But I just didn’t have the same sense of clarity and fulfillment that I do when I begin a sermon from a text rather than a topic. Does that make any sense? I think the sermon “worked” but it wasn’t my best.
For many, topical sermons provide them with clarity, purpose, and precision. For me, however, beginning with Scripture does this. It also frees me from the tendency to make the sermon about me, or about how great I can make it, rather than trying to convey what I think is going on in a particular passage and how we might interpret and live according to it today. At a very early age, before I ever began at Point Loma, in fact, I felt convinced that sermon writing and preaching, at least for me, should not be about me, but rather about faithfully proclaiming, and shedding light upon, Scripture. At Point Loma, when I learned about the Lectionary for the first time, I found it to be freeing (many think of it in the exact opposite way – and that’s perfectly fine!). In the Lectionary, I was given four Scripture passages to engage and to draw upon in preparation for preaching. In short, I found freedom in order and structure. A wonderful addition to this is that many, many Christians all over the world are guided by the Lectionary when they gather for worship each weekend. That means that millions of Christians are wrestling with, and being formed by, the exact same passages each week! (Maybe there really is hope to once again be “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic….) To add a little variety, I’ve also preached series on a biblical book. For example, a few years ago I preached through the book of James with the wonderful folks at the Broadview Church of the Nazarene in New Mexico. Here again, I experienced the kind of freedom and creativity that I typically don’t experience when I am responsible for coming up with a topic, or when I am given one. (Hopefully they would agree!)
The point, then, is simply for me to reiterate to myself (and I guess to you!) that, at my best, I am not a topical preacher. I am a narrative, and expositional preacher, who preaches his best when beginning with Scripture, (typically as laid out by the Lectionary), or when systematically working through a particular biblical book or passage. When it is within my control, I will preach this way. When it is not, and I am handed a text, or a topic, (for whatever reason) I will do my best. But when I can, I will begin with Scripture.
If you’d like to listen to my sermon from Sunday or previous ones, follow this link.
I’d love to read your thoughts about this. Do you agree, or disagree, or maybe have questions?