When I was growing up they were called sermons and pastors preached them. That’s changed.
One Wednesday night during my time as a youth pastor, a young girl asked me if I was giving “the talk” that night. No, not THE talk. She meant the sermon…or message…or the talk that night. Was I the guy that was talking? If so, I was giving the talk.
I soon learned that all types of churches call all types of sermons all types of things. Message. Lesson. Discussion. And pastors didn’t preach any more, they just spoke. “Who’s speaking this weekend?”
And with that, I want you to think about this.
It was so simple when I was younger. Pastors preached sermons. But now, directors conduct discussions, ministers present messages, or leaders lead lessons.
But what is it that we mean when we talk about all these…talks? What is a sermon? And is it any different than a message or a lesson?
I think one reason the waters have been so muddied is because the church, in seeking to be relevant, has stirred them up. The word “sermon” may make some feel uncomfortable, so let’s change the word. But if only the words change, the comfort level won’t. And if the content changes so that those who wouldn’t normally listen now do (and their lives are changed!), then why change the word?
Another reason this gets so muddy is our use of technology. Now, I love technology – especially videos and funny pictures and great graphics. But if that’s the hallmark of a sermon is technology, if people only remember that you showed a Dumb and Dumber clip, then what impact did your words have?
The goal of a sermon is to change lives! The content of a sermon is the person of Jesus living among us! That’s a simple enough idea that often gets murkier and murkier as we add lights and sounds. And it’s not that lights and sounds are bad – they’re great! But if that’s the only way to be creative, then we’re not being all that creative. The greatest speakers of the human race never knew PowerPoint. But they sculpted great words together into sermons that moved the hands of nations.
One more reason – and then I’ll get to answering that question about what a sermon really is. Speakers run the risk of becoming idols to their audience. And that makes perfect sense, I get it. We put them on a stage, elevated above everyone else, give them a microphone, and put a spotlight on them. All those things are so that it’s easier to see and hear them. But the result oftentimes is that their egos enlarge. And why not? If you have a mic and a spotlight and everyone is hanging on your every word, wouldn’t you get a big head? It takes a great level of humility to do that and not let your ego run wild. But it also takes a fair bit of ego to even stand up on the stage in the first place.
So, how does that balance even work? It’s a constant struggle that ministers must navigate all the time. Confident enough in their own God-given abilities, yet humble enough in their man-made faults to understand “it’s not about you”…even when it is all about you. Even when everyone is watching and listening and laughing and clapping. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. And a minister’s number one job is to point people to Jesus.
Ministers should not be so arrogant as to believe that their sermons are more than mere suggestions of what Jesus looked like. That’s what a sermon is – a clear representation of Jesus Christ. Sermons should be windows not walls. They are a way to view God through the incarnation of Jesus – the God who became flesh and lives with us (John 1:14). When we hear the words of a minister, can we see through their words to see Jesus? A minister’s sermon is only effective as it is transparent.
So, as a pastor/minister/leader who preaches/talks/leads, here’s what I have to ask myself: When I speak, can you see Jesus?
But what do you think? How would you define “sermon”? Is it more than – or less than – just showing people Jesus?