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Preparing to preach off the reservation
Some years ago now, I paid a visit to a small church on the South Coast to preach at the conclusion of their week-long evangelistic mission. The church was an unremarkable building and it sat in a pretty nondescript town. On the Sunday afternoon the Pastor said to me “let me show you my secret”. He took me away just out of the town, up a side road, and we climbed and climbed to the very top of the Iron Age hill fort which was there. Wow! What a transformation. From up there he could see the little church in its community, the countryside spreading out beyond it, and the sparkling ocean in the distance. What a place to prepare for preaching!
Professor Mike Graves, who will be writing on this blog next week, advocates an occasional change of scene when preparing sermons. Not only that, but he positively recommends preparing them occasionally in busy places, so that the sermon is not an aural act prepared in silence. What do you think? On the occasions I have tried it, I have found it to be a rich source of inspiration. Maybe, like Kore.Uk, I should chart my study spaces during the year, as they are doing with their office spaces.
My study space yesterday, though, represented a particular challenge. For various reasons I found myself spending nearly seven hours in a hospital waiting room. After I had read the post in my case, and scribbled some notes on some pages for editing, there was really no further excuse not to start on preparing my sermon. So, I sat there preparing this week’s sermon on the next of our Biblefresh memory verses – John 3 v.16. A strange thing happened though. As I sat there writing about the love of God surrounded by sick and distressed people, I felt overwhelmingly obliged to shift my computer screen so that others could not read what I was writing. This really troubled me.
If this was the natural reticence we all feel about letting others see anything less than the finished product, that is one thing. However, what if I felt my theology somehow couldn’t stand scrutiny in that troubled place? What if I felt that a clear statement about the love of God would be unpalatable amongst the very sick? If our sermons are fragile things which cannot stand up outside the rarefied air of the church, then maybe we shouldn’t preach them.
The sermon’s not finished yet, but I’m hoping that when I preach it, I will retain some of that positive unease, and that I shall advocate the love of God in such a way that it will stand up outside the church’s walls.
What experience do others have of preparing to preach away from the study?