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myk habets: sharing the yoke

Preaching is so often a lonely and solitary affair is it not? We spend hours in our studies pouring over the Word, working through commentaries, looking at our Logos software (but not listening to the online sermons of the text of course!), and praying over the text as we complete our ‘First Fifteen,’ or try to hit the ‘Four Corners,’ or cross the ‘Principlizing Bridge,’ or whatever other sort of ‘template’ or tool you normally use in your sermon preparation. Growing up in the Brethren church this preparation time carried a normal expectation of 40 hours for every 40 minute sermon. We then emerge from our studious ghettos, ascend the pulpit (or climb onto the stage), and deliver the message with all our best oratory and rhetorical skills – God-given and Spirit-filled of course. After which we slump into our pew and hope people got what we said and, God willing, even benefitted from it, all the while knowing that ‘preacher’ would once again be on the menu of the Sunday roast.

We speak a lot about church as community, family, house, an organic unity, and other such metaphors, and in many ways we try to effectively work and live this out. Preaching, it seems to me, often get’s left off the list of community and corporate events though. But it shouldn’t be. In preparing for a sermon I often pray for myself for understanding, wisdom, insight, obedience, honesty, etc, but I also ask that God would prepare the congregation for the sermon as well. I will often start a sermon with a prayer for us as a community that we may together, listen, receive, and respond to what God is saying.

Assuming that God calls the congregation together each Sunday, I think we can rightly make the assertion that preaching is political. It is a communal act. While normally only one person speaks, all listen, all process, all lay themselves open to the voice of the Son and the conviction of the Spirit. When the congregation doesn’t feel a part of the sermon, and when the preacher doesn’t feel a part of the congregation, it is most likely that there has been a significant relational disruption. The preacher and the congregation have been dislocated and the sermon hangs in mid-air like the pungent remains of a flatulent child.

I think my best sermon experiences have been those times when, in my home church – the church that I know well, the people whom I love and who love me, the church in which battles have been fought, and fun has been had, and funerals have been shared, and meals have been consumed, and life has been lived – we have worked through a text together, come under the Word of God together, been rebuked together, been convicted together, been forgiven together, been restored together, been equipped together, and been sent out together.

While I take a sermon script into the pulpit I rarely use it for anything other than an outline – and when the sermon has been truly communal the Spirit has led me to apply the text in unprepared ways in which the shared experiences of this community of the baptized has been the content. Seeing ‘John’ in the front row reminds me of the time he did this or that and we learnt together in that way, and there is ‘Mrs Jones,’ a few rows back, we remember when we buried your daughter many years ago now after that tragic accident, and ‘Sam’ and ‘Olivia,’ ‘Julie’ and ‘Cam,’ “hi, remember how God worked so powerfully that time we ran the Alpha course together”…and on it goes. And with each story, each face, each shared experience, it is God in our midst we are reminded of and referred back to. And it is this, I think, that makes preaching so effective and so communal as we witness to the Word in the world in our midst.

And this is what we find in the Word written isn’t it – when God reminds the people of God of his love and faithfulness, of his power and might, of his patience and promise as when he created the cosmos and planted Adam and Eve in a garden, when he led Abraham to a blessed land, chose Isaac, wrestled with Jacob, restored Rahab, blinded Saul, rebuked Peter, showed himself to Stephen, transported Phillip, and on it goes.

It is a truism to say that God is relational and that the Church is to – let’s also make it a truism that preaching is also relational. Let’s share the yoke.

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Myk
teaches systematic theology at Carey Baptist College and is Director of the R.J. Thompson Centre for Theological Study. Myk was an itinerant preacher for over a decade but now, with his wife Odele and two children, he attends Windsor Park Baptist Church.

3 Comments

  1. Agree heartily with everything you say here, Myk. Good stuff. I especially relate to your description of preaching in community – the impact that those relationships have on what we say and how we say it as we preach. The fact that we preach from, into and through relationships.
    What I struggle with, however, is making the preparation side of things communal. How do we get out of the (20 hours for me) ghetto of solo sermon preparation? At present I’m very aware of the impact that my pastoral visiting has on my preparation; each visit I make helps me to see what I’m trying to say in a new light. I read and respond to the scriptures anew in terms of the perspective of whomever I’ve visited that week. But what would happen if we actually did at least some of that intitial bible study in a small group? How often does our preaching acutally arise from communal study of the scriptures?
    Remember the Ephesians experience at Epsom? That shared scripture study is going to feed into some preaching later on this year that I”m really looking forward to. What would happen if we did that more often? In our congregations? How realistic is that?

  2. Mark Maffey says:

    Hi Myk, couldn’t agree more, God is first and foremost relational, indeed the Garden of Eden pre-fall gives us a picture of how God desires to be in relationship with his creation. When one looks at how Christ related to people whether it be the women at the well,Martha and Mary, the Upper Room in John 13 we see someone interacting at a very deep level with people.

    We can do the finest exegesis on a passage, we can have the most amazing delivery, but if a sermon does not reach the people where they are at, it misses the point, it does not draw people to a place where they can understand their God’s love, plans and purposes for their lives.

    Pastors must always have their audience in mind, and especially in these times, a sermon that is not, birthed in waiting an praying with God and the scriptures, and bathed throughout the process, is going to struggle to have the effectiveness it may otherwise have.

    Having said all this we are but the Seed Sowers, God is the Lord of the Harvest, and as we note in Isaiah 55, his ways, his thoughts are higher, greater than we can conceive, and his promise to us is his word will not return void, but prosper in the thing for it was sent.

  3. Reuben Munn says:

    Thanks Myk, this is good stuff.

    I agree completely with preaching being at its best when there is a relational connection between the preacher and the congregation. But I’m also trying to reconcile that with one of the best preaching experiences I’ve had, at a conference where I knew very few people! I guess the Spirit sometimes graciously forges a unity between preacher and congregation even when the relationship is not naturally there.

    I also resonate with your comments, and Roger’s, about sermon prepartation being a lonely process. Sometimes I can get so stuck in my own head, and in my own office that I lose perspective in putting a sermon together. Maybe we need to prepare bits of our sermons “in the world” more…cafes, walking the streets, parks, in conversation with others. I would personally find that challenging, but it could be healthy.

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