Every year I take time to reflect on my sermons from the last year as a way to think through what worked, what didn’t, and how I need to proceed moving forward. It might seem odd to have me talk about this process (for a variety of reasons), but I think it’s important for people to peek “behind the scenes” when it comes to how sermons are prepared. Often times, people think they are either (a) hand delivered on a golden tablet every Saturday evening by an angel, or (b) half-cocked ideas from someone who is just talking off the cuff. The truth is, preaching is a serious task that requires a lot of prayer, work, and effort.
The other thing people rarely think about is the fact that I don’t love the way every sermon turns out. I strive hard to, first, be a listener of the Word before preaching it. That means preaching is born out of what has convicted me first, not on the annoying things everyone around me needs to get better at to be more spiritual. The other thing that I naturally do is critique my own work. In fact, I tend to be harsher than (or at least as harsh as) many of the skeptical or cynical types listening to my sermons. In the same breath, I also know I am anything but unbiased. Sermons are a little like your kids: you can be frustrated with your own children, but you naturally get a little defensive if someone else gets upset with your child. I’m not sure if it’s possible to avoid this dynamic. It just kind of is what it is.
That being said, this blog is the one chance I get to publicly do what many people do on a regular basis, which is armchair quarterback the sermon. I realize critiquing the worship service is simply Sunday lunch ritual for a lot of people. I get it. It comes with the territory. Rather than telling you to change your ways, I’m going to weigh-in myself. The approach is going to be this: I am going to list the series from the last year, give you some “measurable” stats from my 2015 sermons, then follow that up with a list of my own commentary and reflections from my messages over the last year.
SERMON SERIES IN 2015
- The Great “I Am”
- God in the Movies
- The Dreamer
- Life After Life
- Our Turn
- Joy to the World
SERMON STATS FROM 2015
FAVORITE SERMON: “Interstellar” from God in the Movies
WHY: There were a few sermons that were really fun for me to preach on a personal level, so it was hard to pick my absolute favorite. It was a year in which I got to share the stage with my dad, which was a huge highlight for me. I also had a few moments of personal insight that led to the message scratching the creative itch for me. These were messages like “The Colors God Uses” in the series on Joseph called The Dreamer and even a few of the recent messages in our Advent series called Joy to the World.
With that being said, “Interstellar” was the way I would preach on a regular basis if context weren’t something you have to take into account. It combined elements from recent culture, science, philosophy, and was a sermon that was a form of what I would call “micro-apologetics.” There was a mountain of information to cover, so this was a rewarding process in whittling it down as much as possible to what was essential. It was also challenging to work in ways to keep people engaged, which was part of the idea behind using the chalkboard and throwing the ball into the congregation how I did in this message. All in all, it was the message I was most proud of in 2015.
LEAST FAVORITE SERMON: “LOCAL/GLOBAL” from Ethos
WHY: There are certainly messages I personally liked less, and there were messages that were less effective than this one, as well. I will also say that the most stressful sermon was sharing the stage with my dad. He did a fantastic job answering some incredibly difficult questions. On the flip side, the dialogue or “interview with commentary” style as a form of communicating is drastically different than preaching.
But the reason “LOCAL/GLOBAL” was my least favorite message is because there were way too many people who walked away thinking I am against global missions (as if that’s even something that is optional for a church or an individual disciple of Jesus). Part of this may have been due to the fact that this was the first message in the series. I think it took a while to understand that we’re not opposed to doctrine, nor do we believe the Church should ignore the needs of “insiders.” For whatever reason, though, this message was received a lot of different ways, which is, first and foremost, on me as the communicator.
FAVORITE SERIES: The Dreamer
WHY: The best reason I can give you for this being my favorite series is I got really enthralled with the details of Joseph’s story. It stands out in Scripture for a reason and is an amazing story of faith. Joseph is someone that I felt like I could relate to in many ways, yet he is simultaneously one of those people in the Bible that is in rarified air when you look at all he endured. All I can say is that means the author recounted Joseph’s story in the most captivating way possible. To tell a story in such a way that you can relate to someone who is nearly “untouchable” is unique. I’ve already thought back on Joseph’s life and his example of faith countless times since this series.
LEAST FAVORITE SERIES: #blessed
WHY: Starting a new semester in a “college town” is always a difficult task because of the mixture of listeners you are going to encounter the first few weeks of the semester. Inevitably, we are going to have young people trying us out for the first time and making snap judgments on what we’re all about as a church. You also have families looking to get connected to a new church during this time of year, which is a completely different “audience” than college students. On top of all of this, you have the core of our church who also needs to grow and be challenged in their faith, and hearing some of the most fundamental aspects of our church get repeated too often can cause the vision to become stale for this group over time. And just for fun, you get to do all of the legwork of starting a new series with this complicated concoction of listeners. I’ll just say it’s not my favorite time of year to preach.
On top of all of the normal fun during that time of year, I was not pleased with how I executed as a communicator within this series. I felt as though I was extremely faithful to the text in the messages, but I didn’t do a great job of connecting the text (usually one or two verses) to the chapter it is in, the primary themes in Luke’s gospel, the message of the New Testament, and the major theological strands throughout the entire Bible. All in all, the stakes were high and I felt as though it was important to set the stage for what was around the corner for our congregation. In doing so, I missed some key opportunities to be as clear as I needed to be with certain aspects of the Gospel message for those who were dropping in for the first time. I have to trust that the Spirit connected the dots for people despite my ineffectiveness.
Overall, 2015 is a year that I am really proud of when I look back on all that we covered. I love being able to teach Scripture on a regular basis and realize that it’s a privilege, not a right. I believe preaching changes things and carries an inherent eternal value and weight. That’s probably one reason why it’s not always easy or “fun.” However, it is something I thoroughly enjoy doing and is something I want to keep getting better at over time.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what stood out to you over the last 12 months. What was something you learned over the last year? In what new ways did God shape you as a disciple? What books of the Bible or topics would you personally like to see covered in 2016? Go ahead and share those lunch conversations you’ve already had in the comment section below.
 For those “purists” that think the Holy Spirit can only work in the moment, I think that is a fundamentally flawed idea. Spontaneity is not a pre-requisite for the Spirit to work. If that’s the case, then the Incarnation wasn’t a true work of the Spirit of God because it was prophesied thousands of years before the birth of Christ. What I find to be more inspiring and humbling is when the Spirit works in my sermon planning months in advance to reach someone in a unique way down the road.
 What is really fun is preaching a message that I know is falling flat a second time in our multiple service/multiple campus model!
 Call it “revelation,” if you will.
 This is when I begin by asking how this Scripture can be true because it sounds crazy on an initial, surface reading of it, and then we work to unveil the truth that your average person, no matter their worldview, agrees upon behind the text.
 The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 is not optional or “a piece of good advice” for followers of Jesus.
 This method of biblical interpretation is a skill I plan on teaching in the spring of 2016.