by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Well now, this might be dangerous. Why my sermons are not interesting: allow me to state the most obvious reason – I am not interesting, nor am I a good preacher, and I just might not be interesting – uh, I said that, right?
After we get past that (and there may not be much past that from your perspective) if my sermons are not interesting it is not because I don’t have anything to say. I have tons to say – I am just not sure anyone wants to hear it. Now I think, pray, serve, worship and preach from a deep center, a mystic place. In this day of “what’s-in-it-for-me?” church, I wonder how interesting my sermons are. Of course, it doesn’t help that I am reading Jeremiah right now: nobody wanted to hear him either!
A few years ago I stopped reading all the consumer (tertiary) Christian books by popular authors like John Ortberg, Erwin McManus and Rob Bell… blah blah blah. For a variety of interior spiritual reasons I just couldn’t read them anymore. I just read a few deep theology books… N.T. Wright and Simon Chan… and I read a whole bunch of mystic and spirituality books.
My monthly times of solitude and contemplation began to rephrase my reading of Scripture. Each week I steal away and read. I read Christian spiritual mystics. I read spiritual and sacramental theologies. I read Carl Jung. My core Calvinist theology began to expand to include Orthodox, Catholic and even Arminian ideas. When I read Scripture I feel like I am reading it from a completely different place – and it is difficult to articulate. The cryptic answer for this shift: deep abiding, sitting at Jesus’ feet more and more; listening prayer, meditation and contemplation.
But mostly if my sermons are uninteresting it is because I only preach what I hear from g-d, what comes at me unbidden from within. I feel as though I must bake my own bread and not just serve up John Ortberg’s good bread. After all, how’d John get his bread?
The big shift here is that I don’t pursue the consumer first anymore. Simon Chan says, “Yet all too often the modern sermon is singularly calculated at satisfying the consumer demands of the modern churchgoer.” (Spiritual Theology, page 117) I’ve written hundreds of these consumer-churchgoer sermons and I might add, I’ve been praised for it, built a nice church and went home just over half the time feeling pretty good about the sermon and the way it was received. Even still it’s hard not to think ‘what does everyone think of me and that sermon I just unloaded on them?‘.
I believe my first job is to teach people how to pray – not how to add on spirituality to their everyday secular lives. By “teach people how to pray” I mean ‘how to be in communion with the Father, through the Son and by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is also called abide in Christ, be in Christ, have faith in Christ (or with/alongside Christ), desire Christ. If preaching teaches and demonstrates how to pray, then good – I will preach. If it expounds the Word so we can learn to be with Christ (prayer) then fine – I will preach. But if preaching is only a consumer-driven activity, then far be it from me – even if it is uninteresting.