Wednesday, 5 October 2011


For any of you that get chance to preach, I wonder if you share this with me?

Sometimes preaching seems to go really well, whereas at other times it's not great, and it almost seems independent of how you think preparation has gone or how well you've got to grips with the passage.

Last Sunday I preached on Daniel 3. Through my preparation, I felt I'd understood what the writer was saying and the point he was trying to communicate. I felt I could see how to cross the bridge and to plant the passage in the world today, applying it to our lives. I thought I had come up with some relatively engaging illustrations, and that I'd managed to think of an introduction that might spark some thoughts.

And yet when I got up to preach it, and as I was preaching it, it seemed flat. It seemed like I didn't connect with my sermon, and that those who were listening weren't really carried along with it.

I know that whenever I preach, I need the Holy Spirit to work in me and through me. I know that I need to take my responsibility seriously to work hard at the passage. But I kind of felt I'd done that, and that I was trusting in the Spirit. So what was different?

The true answer is... I don't know! But, reflecting on the sermon, I wonder if perhaps it wasn't me preaching. By that, I mean that perhaps I was trying to say the right things and preach a 'sound' sermon, but I wonder if Scott Thomson was lost in the process? I wonder if I was trying to be someone else, and in doing so I lost the confidence to really say what I thought God was saying, and to really mean the words that I had prepared to speak. Perhaps it didn't feel genuine - it felt more like a performance than me lovingly and passionately sharing with people what I felt God wanted us to hear.

In the end I don't really know, to be honest, what was different - but this was my experience. Do you sometimes experience the same thing? Got any advice?


Dave Mackie said...

Hi Scott

I'm sure that lots of people have read your post and, like me, sympathise and empathise but don't really know what to say. But I decided to think a bit harder since I know it's discouraging not to have any comments when you've specifically asked for them.

For what it's worth, some thoughts (more that than advice):

[1] Keep going! I think it was Tim Keller who said something like, for your first 200 sermons you are basically pretending to be someone else; a poor remix of your favourite preachers perhaps! And after about 200, you start finding your voice. I don't know how accurate that is, but there's certainly some wise counsel in there.

[2] Perhaps try different things. About 18 months ago, after having always used full scripts, I tried preaching with just a few notes ... it varies how much detail is in them based on how well I feel I know what I am planning to say. Suddenly, I found a real freedom in preaching and what I was saying seemed to connect with the listeners much more effectively. Many of the best preachers use full scripts, so I'm not advocating the method as being necessarily brilliant, but I am advocating that now might be a good time to take some risks, while you are in a setting where you will be getting good feedback to know whether the risk worked or not.

You can discern whether any of that is pertinent or useful ... or not :o)


Benj Wilks said...


I created a fairly lengthy reply when you first posted this but it got eaten by the internet and I didn't have time to redo it at that point. I've now forgotten much of what I planned to say, but I'll take a stab anyway!

The main comment I would offer is that I think how we feel a sermon has gone can be incredibly deceptive. There have been occasions when at the end of the service I've been convinced that it was a complete flop, that no-one got anything out of it. Yet as I've stood at the back there have been one or two who've had encouraging comments that show they've really understood what I was getting at.

And even if they've not really got the real point, sometimes people take a way the little things - I preached on the great commission and began by saying that a familiar passage can tend to make us switch off and we shouldn't let it. Of course I then made a good solid three points about the meaning of the passage, but at the end there was one guy who was really excited about the revelation that he shouldn't switch off! At the time I was a bit demoralised that that was all he'd got, but as I've reflected on it I think if that much really sunk in then I'm OK with that!

I think my point is: Not only is how well you think it goes independent of how well preparation went, it may well also be independent of how well the sermon actually went!

Secondly, however, Preaching should be the message mediated by personality, so your personality should be affecting what you say and especially how you say it.
It was suggested to me that I consider writing stage directions in my script (quietly, Dramatically, Pause, etc). Whilst I think there's a danger in it becoming too much a scripted performance - you need to be responsive to the congregation, if nothing else, I think there's something to be said for some time spent thinking about how the message will be conveyed as well as what the message is.

Hope some of that helps!

Scott Thomson said...

Hey Benj and Dave,

Thanks for your comments - I really appreciate them - it's certainly food for thought. I guess part of the danger for us all is in putting our identity in how we preach, rather than in Christ. When my identity is to tied up to how I preach, then I begin to place too much on it I think, and (ironically) I feel restricted and the pressure of it actually makes my preaching worse.

Your comments were really helpful. Benj, the very next week someone came up and said something in response to one of the things I'd said which I thought had been completely lost, so we definitely don't know how God is using it (God does, afterall, work through weakness - I'm just a proud person who wants to be more than a jar of clay!).

And Dave, I think it probably is time for me to grasp the bull by the horns and try different things - I've known it for a while but your mentioning it again has just reinforced that I need to go for it!

Thanks again for your comments :).