From: T.M. Schoewe
Some time ago we were asked to write a few words about sermons, for the persons said they were bored with sermons. We hesitated to do so because we know what a tough task it is to write and to deliver a good sermon, one that actually connects with the hearers. But lately we have been reading about “Sermons that bore us.” So we might write a few words, although it is with great reluctance.
So you say you are “bored with the sermon.” This is actually nothing new. To quote Tom Long, “For many people the words boredom and sermon is a proper pair like horse and buggy.” Congregations calling a new pastor always list as first importance being a “good preacher.” This might shock you! Last year Monsignor Crociata, secretary-general of Italian Bishops Conference, made a disturbing remark in the “Vatican’s-Romano” when he struck out at “dull preachers” whose sermons are just “boring mush.”
But this isn’t really something new. It is old news. There is a book, “Preaching for Today,” that covers church history and attitudes toward sermons. It finds centuries worth of complaints about sermons. We run into a puzzle here. The puzzle is not only why centuries of church goers have complained about boring sermons but why they only seem more boring than they actually are. The comment, “that sermon was boring,” is not a reflection of the quality of the sermon by any objective measure but rather an indication of the boredom being experienced in the listener’s life. You know, as has been said many times, “99 out of 100 people are interesting once you get to know them.” And even the one who is not interesting, is interesting, because he is the exception. And is it not interesting that we can remain captive and listen undisturbed for an hour to a presentation on how to plant and cultivate a backyard garden, but if a sermon goes over 15 minutes we start to see our endurance wane? Why? Some say “it is just too slow for the fast-paced culture” we have today, and if you “can’t say it in 12 minutes don’t say it.” Times have certainly changed. We can remember in the 1920s and 1930s listening to 35-40 minute sermons and congregations often asked if the preacher could hold out for 60 minutes. Nowadays the recommended time seems to be 12 minutes with respect to our attention span, unless the sermon is interesting to the listeners, like with some of the prosperity gospel preachers who go for an hour or more and the people still want more.
We were educated with the notion that “a house-going pastor makes church-going people.” It is true that when the pastor visits the people in their homes and at their work that this enables him to connect people with the text on Sunday mornings. To know their thinking, their problems, their trouble, joys and sorrows, their outlooks; gives him good material to connect to his text. Such application will stop boredom and keep the pews full of true listeners rather than bored hearers. In the military we called this the “ministry of presence.”
You know, some of this snickering about boring sermons comes because we go expecting the same, but deep down hope for so much more. Hanging in the air between our eyes and ears is the question, “is it true, is God present?” We want a word that is beyond us, above us, a simple word from the Lord; a word that judges us and convicts our conscience, but one that lifts us up again and again as redeemed children of God.
If we don’t get such a word we are left to ourselves and that is what is boring! There is a story of the man who went to his doctor complaining that he was bored. He said he was just full of boredom. It was debilitating. After a longer examination the doctor said “there is nothing wrong with you.” Why don’t you try to relax? Go out and find some entertainment. Turn on your TV and find some amusement. Go see a comedian, relax, and learn to laugh. And this man said to his doctor, “I am a comedian.”
So we all get tired of our amusements and we joke about boring sermons but actually it may be we who are boring. We say we are bored when actually we are disappointed. And we are disappointed when we do not know what we are waiting for. The one thing we are waiting for is for our preachers who know the wind of which our Lord spoke in John 3 and Who takes us up into the heights and knows the abyss below; preachers who take a deep breath and speak a life-giving, life-changing gospel which we can take down into the week as we come down from the mountain. As it can be said of us as of Peter, James, and John, “we saw and heard no man but Jesus only.” And so we go into next week changed, not bored! Sine cera.