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what’s your “one main sermon”? – lynne baab

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In our early adult life, my husband and I attended one church for seven years. After about five years of listening to the senior pastor’s preaching, I got bored with it. I said to an older friend of mine, “I’m getting so tired of his preaching.”

She replied, “Sure it’s a bit repetitive, but he’s got one main point that he says over and over: ‘God loves you and wants to use you in ministry.’ If there’s going to be one point that we hear most Sundays, I’m glad it’s that one. Part of why I go to church every Sunday is to be reminded of exactly that. It helps me go into my week with the right attitude.”

When I did the interviews for my book on listening (The Power of Listening), one of my interviewees talked about a past minister of her church, who frequently mentioned in sermons the need to pay attention to God’s voice and God’s guidance. She said:

That might have been his one main sermon. He stressed that listening is intentional. You can’t just assume you’re a good listener. He stressed that listening is connected to your own prayer: “Show me, help me see what you’re doing.” Listening requires a posture of humility, an emphasis that it’s not about me, it’s about taking in what God is doing.

When I think of my own preaching, I suspect that my “one main sermon” might be this: God wants us to bring everything to him in prayer, no matter how messy, no matter how embarrassing, because God desires honesty.

I invite you to think about what might be your “one main sermon.” After you have identified it, you might want to ponder these questions:

  1. Where in your life does your major recurring sermon theme come from? What events and relationships shaped that major conviction you talk about frequently? If you know where the theme comes from, you’ll be less likely to talk about it as a knee-jerk impulse. You’ll talk about it when appropriate.
  2. How has the major idea in your “one main sermon” impacted your own spiritual life? In what ways do you live out that one major idea? In what ways do you need to live it out more? You’ll talk about it more authentically when you have thought through the impact of that one idea in your own life.
  3. How does your “one main sermon” compare to the overall sweep of the biblical story? Which biblical writers talk most often about your main idea or illustrate it? I think my “one main sermon” is illustrated best by Jeremiah and the Psalms.
  4. How does your “one main sermon” relate to the specific biblical text you are working with for your next sermon? Before we talk about our main idea, we need to be sure the text actually supports that idea.
  5. If you are the minister of a congregation, or if you preach frequently in one place, be careful how often you talk about your most common sermon theme. People really will get bored if you say the same thing over and over, no matter how important that idea is. Letting each biblical text speak its own message helps us moderate our repetitive use of themes that we love.

(Lynne’s book The Power of Listening is available from here)

4 Comments

  1. NANCY BARNARD STARR says:

    Oh, yes. One main sermon, after 20+ years! Profound, poetic and thankfully brief. (Why go on when all is said?) Have not matched it, though some fun to re-read.
    Of course its message was from John (17:1-11), and it knitted itself together in far less time than most wordy sermons. This sermon more than others was and is my touchstone, my pivot-point, my inaugural address, reminding me that sometimes God gives us timely words for a community by means of the humble roster.

    1. Lynne Bab says:

      Nancy, how nice to have a sermon that you see as a high point both for preaching and for your own faith. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Peter Dobbs says:

    Great points to consider Lynne. I also appreciate the comment that Nancy made about the style of her personal “one main sermon.” It is so easy to get excited and passionate about something that really speaks to us and loose people in the process. “The golden rule of preaching is: if after half an hour you haven’t struck oil, quit boring!”

    This week I spent some time with an older, very experienced Christian minister who said that he had once been approached by someone on the street who claimed that they recognised him from when he was a visiting preacher in a small South African town decades previously. “I know you. You’re the Pelican man!” He proceeded to recount exactly what he had spoken about in incredible detail. He finished – “It was your children’s talk.”
    “That’s amazing,” my elderly friend responded. “What did I preach on?”
    “I have no idea.” was the reply.

    K.I.S.S. is an overused acronym for a reason. There is wisdom in it!

    1. Lynne Bab says:

      Peter, my mark of a good sermon is that I am still thinking about it on Wednesday. I can’t tell you how often on Wednesday I can remember what the children’s sermon was but I can’t remember the “real” sermon. You’re right about KISS.

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