Preaching & The Main Attraction
“I was never the main attraction. People always came to see whoever it was I was introducing. I was the one who told them about the headliner and got them excited about the headliner, but it was always about making people focus on the main attraction. Bring the spotlight to the headliner - that is what the gig was about.”
Preaching is the bread and butter of what most pastors do. On average, pastors spend 10-18 hours per week preparing their sermon. The time spent is a combination of reading, journaling, prayer, reflection, and actual writing. There are times when you call a preacher used time wisely and then are the times when you can tell the preacher needed to be closer to 18 hours of prep time. Most people just do not realize how much time preachers put into their sermons.
But with all that prep time reading the Bible, finding secular examples to share (because there are not enough stories in the Bible?), and then organizing it all into a 3-point presentation that will get everyone out of church in time for lunch, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the forefront of most sermons that are preached on Sunday mornings?
I spent the beginning of this week hanging out with Bishop Tim Whitaker. When I say I was hanging out with him I mean I was on one side of the room and he was at the podium on the opposite side. I did ask him a question during a break, which means I had a private conversation with him, which means we are basically new best friends. Tim (because we are now best friends) argued that preaching today focuses less and less on the proclamation of the saving act of Christ, the Apostolic Kerygma, and more and more on the individual doing the preaching.
According to the former Dean of Drew Theological Seminary Clarence Tucker Craig, a kerygma is simply “the message which the apostles preached.” Craig adds that three things must be present for any kerygma: fulfillment of what God had covenanted with Israel; deliverance by the Divine; Christ’s position as the head of the church.
Today in a lot of the preaching happening on Sunday mornings the Apostolic Kerygma is just the background story used to make a point about something that occurred in the preacher’s past or that is currently happening in their life today. When Tim mentioned this during his lecture you could begin to see heads nodding, people leaning to one another outing their pastor buddy who does this regularly, or those who knew Tim was speaking directly to them.
The first sermon I ever preached was one of these sermons. I had no idea what I was doing. I was a first semester seminary student with zero preaching experience and was on taking Church History and Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (not the lineup you want as you prepare to preach). A friend told me to just keep it about myself. I was new to the church and they needed to know who I was. So that’s what I did. Needless to say, I became the main attraction.
After worship, in the reception line, people told me how nice is was to hear my story and that they looked forward to hearing more of it. There was even a guy who told me, “don’t worry, you’ll get better.” While I knew that getting better was the only place I could go, it was not until earlier this week that the my story part clicked. In the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ we, those who teach and preach, need to keep that at the forefront. We need to keep at the forefront how God kept and is keeping the covenant made with Israel. Our communities need to be reminded that Christ’s arrival on earth via Mary and death by cross was an act of divine deliverance. As a result of this covenant and the act of deliverance Christ is now the head of the church and as such, it should be His story we are sharing on Sunday mornings (or Monday nights like AfterHours Denver).
We are most certainly not the main attraction. Which happens to be a good thing. While my screw ups, failures, and misguided attempts to live as a disciple of Christ will make for good sermon illustrations they need to remain just that. We are just the warmup act introducing the Headliner that needs no introduction. If you want your congregation to get to know you write a blog. If you want your congregation to get to know Christ, let Him be the main attraction.
I ordered Last Call last year. It was one of those books I really wanted to read but it kept getting pushed to the side when other things came up (like my Master's’ thesis). I had some time this week so I decided to put a dent in it, with the intention of finishing it over the rest of next month. A few hours later I had finished the book. It is that good. I am not a strong reader. I never have been. But when I first started Jerry’s book I knew after the introduction that I this was something I needed to read and read quickly. I will be sharing my reflection on this book about God, bartenders, and bad comedians over the next weeks. I hope you will join me. Cheers!