One of the biggest complaints of former church-goers is the quality of the sermons. This component of worship is important. People place a great deal of importance on it. For many it is the central piece of the worship service. The faithful as well as the lost have always sought out spiritual people for their wisdom, and I believe will continue to do so for the perceivable future. The great and continuing need here warrants significant attention and work if we are to return the masses to a community based spiritual life rather than one largely lived out in solitude. I propose three main reforms to make sermons and other spiritual addresses successful again:
1. Relevance – Sermons need to be written with the times and audience in mind. There is no place for generic speak. If that same sermon could be given in another time or place, it is a missed opportunity to make the divine come alive for followers. I believe that scripture is timeless, but our discussion on the Word should be alive in the here and now. That is the sermon’s role, to make the timeless and eternal scripture find a place in the hearts of today’s people.
2. Authority – Words of wisdom should be driven to inform, enlighten and inspire. But it is important that the speaker doesn’t come off as an all-knowing authority. The sermon is a perspective, not another gospel truth. Too often the ‘good news’ of a sermon is shared as if that is the only ‘good news’. It is portrayed as final, absolute and unwavering. It is important for spiritual leaders to share their perspective as an example for the faith community, but there should be and emphasis on followers finding truths in their own hearts. It’s a yogic principle that all the answers and wisdom one seeks are already inside, just yet to be realized. Yet people look for answers and wisdom they seek in gurus. It is not the guru’s job to give them what they seek, but to ask the right questions to prompt the follower to discover it themselves. As opposed to the spiritual leader giving the answers, which requires no thought on behalf of the follower, the preacher’s task is to get people to engage in a conversation with themselves and the divine that simulates spiritual development. In that way, the sermon is difficult. It is not a lecture, but a conversation with one side spoken a loud to many, while the other is usually silent in each individuals’ hearts and minds.
3. Focus – While the sermon should ask questions of followers to help them find their own answers, it should not be a laundry list of questions or loosely related tidbits of thought. There should be a firm point, one takeaway for people to carry out into the Secular world we all live in. Every follower may manifest the message in a different way, but there should be not question as to what the message is. There are plenty of gray areas, but preachers need to be able to take a stance, even if it is a personal one to start a genuine conversation and to encourage followers to take a stance of their own.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list of what a sermon should be, but I think it is a good and ambitious start. There is a lot contained in these three little principles, but they are certainly not the end. What aspects appear most wanting to you in sermons or spiritual addresses?