Sunday, March 15, 2015

How not to preach

From "How Not To Preach" by Rev. John J. Conley in the 02/02/15 issue of America:
1. It’s all about you. Keep the sermon strictly autobiographical. Your congregation is dying to know all about your last vacation. There’s no need to discuss that pesky reading about Abraham and Isaac and the knife.
I recently heard a sermon about a priest’s socks. Father explained how difficult it is to keep pairs of socks together. He noted his preferred detergent for washing socks and the advantages of using a clothesline over a dryer. He said there was a controversy over whether priests should wear all-black socks or whether they could add stripes. (News to me.) We kept waiting for the spiritual punchline. Was the lost sock like the lost sheep in the parable of the Good Shepherd? It remained a mystery. The sermon concluded with the revelation that he found doing the laundry difficult at times.
On a darker note, I once heard a sermon in which the preacher discussed the problem of resentment. The theme matched the Gospel, which featured the apostles’ jealous squabbling among themselves. Warming to his subject, the preacher described his own resentment against his brother (the prize-winning athlete), his sixth-grade teacher (too critical) and then his dear mother (too distant). As we cringed into our missalettes, I wondered if Doctor Phil would rush from the sacristy to take over the bathos in the sanctuary.
You were not ordained to tell your own story. You were ordained to proclaim someone else’s.
I would add that there is no need for a travelogue. 
At one UU church I attended for a few years one of the regular pulpit fills traveled about 35 miles to the church and would begin every sermon with a description of the scenery she observed while driving: the shape of the clouds, the geese she saw flying, the color of the leaves on the trees, the rain, snow, sunshine. I used to wonder what is the stipend you are receiving for this? Did you forget that we all drove here too and saw the same stuff? I mean connecting with nature is nice but I can get better on the National Geographic Channel. I suppose if it was just once, or done to make a point, but every sermon started with her travel report. I stopped attending the services when she was preaching. She was a nice person and meant well but must have skipped or slept through Homilectics 101.

1 comment:

  1. We live in a very narcissistic age and UU fuels it with the idea that everybody can make up their own theology and it all has equal value. The effect of this norm is that it dumbs the group down. While your personal experience and life story is appropriate in therapy or when having coffee with a good friend, it doesn't necessarily make good sermon material. Where do you draw the line when it comes to self disclosure? Does it meet the needs of the audience or is this primarily gratifying to the ego of the speaker? When preaching the needs of the audience come first. It would seem that the preacher has an ethical obligation to put the needs of the audience first and not his/her own narcissistic enjoyment and satisfaction.