A bit ago I reposted an article asking folks what they want in a sermon. I thought this was a very thoughtful response I received from a friend in my congregation. I offer to you here, with his permission, in no self-aggrandizing way:
What do I want in a sermon?
What I want is clearly not what everyone wants, and the fact that we at church have you pastors at the same time for so long is a terrific asset for the congregation. It allows different styles to be present in the same location.
So, what do I want?
I want someone who literally struggles with the cynic inside my head.
I see tremendous hypocrisy, which includes myself, throughout our society and community – and throughout our faith. So, I want someone who is able to identify those same things and point them out in a constructive way that reflects our faith.
I want to be challenged intellectually.
But I don’t want to be challenged to the point where I feel utterly stupid and shamed for my lack of wits. I was unchurched after I left home in 1988 and moved back and forth between my Mom and Dad’s houses when things were going very badly at my Mom’s home with her second husband. I started looking for churches again when I was stationed in Germany, after I spoke with a Jewish Rabbi, in 2004. I attended some traditional and nontraditional services. Some felt hokey and some felt familiar, “nice,” but maybe boring.
I don’t go to church to hear that I should love everyone.
I know that I should love everyone.
I want to hear how I should love someone who I otherwise would pass by. I want to hear that Jesus is more likely to be the grumpy half-crazy homeless guy that I’d see on the way to work downtown than anyone else that’s in my daily life.
I want to be challenged, and sometimes that means offended.
I want that.
That’s tempered with not wanting a shock-jock turned preacher – or a preacher that is so full of himself or herself that any semblance of approachability and humility have transmogrified into this puritanical, holier-than-thou, give all your money to the church, “holy man” who is the knoweth and the beginningeth and endeth of all things Jesus.
I don’t want a fire breathing, Bible-thumping preacher man, who tells me that the only folks who get saved are those that are baptized in this church or that one.
I want a sermon to help bridge the gaps.
Between the Christian factions – or to at least help us understand what makes a Methodist sermon different than a Catholic or Non-Denominational one. That desire goes back to learning bits and pieces about our faith – but through current happenings. It doesn’t have to be about ISIS, but it can. It doesn’t have to be about politics, but it can.
When we bought our home, we bought it to be closer to our church and to a particular school. We want to stay and we want to be part of this community. I want to be continually challenged. If I’m not, I tend to wander and stray.
At the risk of your reaching critical mass (get it, “mass”…) of mental acuity and sheer mathematical arithmetical genius, I had only found a small handful of clergy that I could relate to (I guess that’s not just until I found Aldersgate, as it is still the case.
I could tell you a story through these three clergy – one Rabbi, one Catholic, and one Evangelical Preacher… I found bits to identify with each and something to take away. It’s raised questions that I’ve asked and questions that I haven’t.
I still ended up in the Methodist tradition that I was baptized into back in the Chicago area. Maybe because of tradition, but maybe also because I’ve found someone like you all. We are happy here and what we are getting is exactly what we want.
Hopefully that’s helpful.
Thanks for asking.