5.14.2012

Sermonolatry

J.D. Greear, recently published a list of things he's learned in his first ten years as a pastor.  From that list, one of the things that struck me was this comment, "excellence must be balanced by good enough."  I think that's actually a really good insight that can apply to a lot of things in ministry.  It can even apply to the pastor's most important job - sermon preparation.

If it sounds like I'm downplaying the importance of Biblical preaching in the life of the church, I assure you that's not my intent.  Nor is it my intent to suggest that sloppy, hastily thrown together sermons are acceptable.  They're absolutely not.  Everything we do for God should be done with excellence.  However, I do think there's a line we cross between excellence (strong, well thought out, quality sermons) and what I term "sermonolatry" (making an idol of our sermon, being overly concerned with presentation).

Again, please understand I am not against creative preaching or fine oratory.  It is our job to do everything in our power to make sure our people can understand and apply God's Word.  But as one of my role models is fond of saying, ultimately we pastors are in the communication business.  We are first and foremost teachers, not entertainers or speech makers.  The pastor that doesn't have the most polished outline or creative illustration, yet gets his point across, is more effective than the pastor that has carefully crafted each word, pregnant pause, and voice inflection, yet doesn't connect with his people.  After we are done preaching, the greatest compliment to our ears should not be, "You spoke beautifully," but rather "I understand that passage now." 

Something else to consider...  A pastor wears many hats.  While teaching the Word and praying should be our top priorities (Acts 6:4), they are not our only priorities.  We must also shepherd our people and oversee the operation of the church (1 Pet 5:2).  And of course there are a million individual things that fall under those two umbrellas.  Being a pastor, then, requires balance.  If we neglect the daily needs of our people (although deacons should be helping with much of this), or allow the church to be poorly administered because we are too busy alliterating our points, or choosing just the right prop, or wresting with fine details of verbiage, we are out of balance.  And it may be an indicator we're making an idol of our sermon.

So what's the answer?  How do we balance excellence with "good enough?"  How do we ensure that we're giving the handling of the Word its proper due, while also meeting our other responsibilities (including our responsibilities at home)?  How much time should a pastor spend in sermon preparation each week?

Of course, there is no "one size fits all" answer to that last question.  All of us are different.  We think differently. We prepare differently.  But the bottom line is that there needs to be a point where we say, "Good enough.  I have accurately conveyed the meaning of the text.  I have showed my people how to apply it to their life.  I am done."  (And if we're being honest, there are some weeks when "good enough" looks different than other weeks.)  There is nothing wrong with wanting to prepare an excellent sermon.  In fact, that should be our desire every week.  But our desire in doing so should be for the glory of God, not the glory of our sermon.

Is "sermonolatry" a valid concern?  What do you think?