Thursday, August 28, 2008
The Preacher, IV: Nothing Personal. Please.
Today I was led to Fr. Greg Alms' marvelous little post on preaching, whose title says it all: "A Continuing Guide to the Self Delusion of Preachers."
I'd like to highlight these two points he makes:
Preachers know that 90 percent of personal stories in sermons overpower and obscure the theological point being made.
90 percent of preachers believe their personal stories are effective homiletical tools.
My guess, preacher, is that if you're one who likes to tell personal anecdotes as a staple of your sermons, you will likely never admit, even to yourelf, that your personal stories obscure the Gospel. And that, dear preacher, is because of your sin.
Don't get me wrong, I'm as much of a sinner as you are, but by the grace of God I am what I am: a preacher of the Gospel. Have you not read St. Paul? We preach not ourselves, he says most clearly. So why do you think it's ok to go preach yourself? We don't want to hear about you. And frankly, we don't want to hear your little make-believe anecdotes about somebody else, either. Is it too much to ask you you preach Christ?
Sometimes I have heard preachers do nothing but string stories end to end and call it a sermon, and I'm not exaggerating.
Preacher, consider the sermons in the book of Acts. You don't see St. Peter telling personal stories.
For that matter, consider Jesus' own preaching. Now his device is the parable, which, to be sure, is a kind of story. But these stories arise out of the rabbinic mold, and as such are themselves rich in content; and they're certainly not personal ones.
The typical American sermon has become the heart of all banality. I'm amazed that people can sit through such insults to their intelligence, and then tell the preacher what a great sermon he had today, when all they heard was trite little ditties like Little Johnny was lost in the wood for hours one night; his father went out searching for hours; and when he finally found his son sleeping under a thin blanket of snow, he awoke, stretched, and exclaimed, "Oh Daddy, I found you at last!" Who found whom?
Oh, gag me! Preacher, stop reading Herman Gockel, will you? Or whatever books you're looking at to get your little extended metaphors.
When you tell them, you'll surely impress some of your hearers, but alas, you've just wasted valuable preaching time in which you could have been delving into the mysteries of the Sacred Page.
So some will tell you how wonderful your stories are. Preacher, listen, they're probably just being nice. Either that, or they really need some serious catechesis in the Gospel, which is infinately richer than tripe about little Johnny!
You want to use some stories to illustrate your point? Fine. How about using a great book I've found that's chock full of them. It's called the Old Testament. You want to illustrate divine grace? How about using Gideon's army, or David the shepherd-boy. The point there is that the victories were not gained by the strength of man. See? There are the stories you may use to your heart's content. And you'll be teaching them Bible stories to boot!
Stop preaching yourself, or your own little time-wasting anecdotes. Preach Christ instead.