Preaching Blues

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  • April 17, 2008

It’s Thursday and my frustration with last Sunday’s sermon is still just wearing off. As a part of the Timothy’s Inferno Series, I got to preach on the good, glorious, complementarian understanding of gender. This reality rooted in Creation and redeemed by Christ that God has created men and women equal but different, and how those differences play out in the home and in the Church. Here’s what I struggled with:

My sermon was only 46 minutes. Now normally, I have no problem with that. I am the king of the 34-39 minute sermon (which is probably long in a lot of places). But every time I practiced the sermon at home, it was an hour or longer. And so I began by warning the church that we were in for a long sermon. Telling people they’re in for a long sermon is like a dentist looking at the guy sitting in the chair and saying, “This is definitely going to hurt.” I’m sure everyone of my preaching profs would have beat me with a wooden spoon for that one. What’s worse, thinking that it was so long already, I cut out a bunch of stuff that could have really been helpful.

I wasn’t funny. Humor is one of those tightropes on which a preacher must tread carefully. I think there is a dangerous seduction for the preacher to be a comedian. Humor can become a preacher’s master rather than his slave. In The Supremacy of God in Preaching, John Piper warns, “Laughter seems to have replaced repentance as the goal of many preachers. Laughter means people feel good. It means they like you. It means you have moved them…It seems to have all the marks of successful communication – if the depth of sin and the holiness of God and the danger of hell and the need for broken hearts are left out of account.”

And yet, there is at the same time an appropriate place for humor in preaching. Humor is good if it is a servant of the truth. Someone described it like using anesthesia. Not to put people to sleep or make them numb, but to prepare and enable them to receive painful truth they need. Humor can smuggle truth past the defenses we so quickly put up. That could have helped on Sunday.

I still have questions. Can a woman preach under the authority of pastors? Or is preaching an authoritative kind of teaching that is reserved for pastors? If so, is preaching something that only pastors should do? Is it cool for women to teach at seminaries? Preaching on something doesn’t mean that once you sit down, you’ve got it all figured out. I’m still learning that. I preached on 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and I understand the text better than I ever have. But I still have questions.

I spoke to the mind more than the soul. I think this one bothers me most. There’s a difference between a lecture and a sermon. One is concerned with information, the other with transformation. Lectures can convey truths. Sermons need to convey truths in such a way that the soul drools after that truth. A sermon’s aim is to have the hearer’s mind and heart become so enamored by a truth that they joyfully surrender their life to it. It’s one thing to present a Biblical argument for complementarian understanding of gender. It’s something more to paint a vision of life where men look like Jesus in sacrificial-servant-leading and women look like Jesus in joyful submission and where we represent the unity and diversity of the Trinity as males and females…and to have that painting be so beautiful that all who catch a glimpse of it yearn for more. Now I’m Reformed enough to know that all of this only happens through the Spirit’s work, but on Sunday mornings we need sermons and not lectures.

I get to preach again in 2 weeks. Isn’t that awesome? Preaching, like all ministry, highlights that we are weak, but God is strong. We are inadequate, but God is sufficient. And so in getting ready for next week, I’ll work like an Armenian and sleep like a Calvinist.

(I didn’t come up with that last line, but I wish I did)

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About Ajay Thomas

Ajay lives in Philadelphia with his wife Shainu and their kids Hannah and Micah. He is responsible for preaching and vision as a pastor at Seven Mile Road.

One Comment

  • David says:

    First, I appreciate your earnestness to present good, godly, convicting preaching that reaches the heart as well as the mind.

    Second, just a minor comment (no offense intended). If you are going to refer to Arminianism in print, you should learn that a person of a certain theological persuasion is spelled “Arminian” and a person from a certain geographical area, Armenia, is call an “Armenian.” 🙂 Sorry, I’m a compulsive editor.

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