Saturday, May 27, 2006

Divine Curriculum

How should a pastor select topics on which to preach? This probably does not concern the normal person in the pew. There will be those who want their pet issue(s) preached about. Those who want each sermon to move them emotional. Then of course there those who want each sermon to be practical. As Christians, it should be our desire that sermons are relevant, reaching the heart and applicable. However, those are more aspects of a sermon, rather than the topic itself.

In more liturgical circles, often the topics of preaching are selected by a church calendar called a lectionary. I have attended a church where the pastor used the lectionary
in his preaching. The good thing about the lectionary was that it took the work out of selecting a passage so the pastor could just focus on developing the topic. Another strength of the lectionary is that it gives both an Old Testament and a New Testament passage from which to work. The lectionary coordinates the sermons with holidays on the church calendar. In all seriousness, for even those who are adamant about another system of selecting topics for preaching, it is difficult for a pastor to not preach a Christmas sermon on Christmas, an Easter sermon on Easter, a Thanksgiving sermon on Thanksgiving and certainly a Mother's Day sermon on Mother's Day. However, I find lectionary selected preaching to be most often about safe topics. There are notable exceptions such the recent addition of Sanctity of Life Sunday. But when I say safe topics, I mean safe in more ways than just lacking controversy. There are many topics that are important but lack a nice way to articulate them. The Sanctity of Life Sunday supporters have developed a way to articulate the message as does most lectionaries. In one sense, the lectionary is like a Betty Crocker cake mix. You bake it yourself and it can be very good. That is fine if you don't really bake. I would not expect to go to a four star restaurant and the desert chef to bake from a Betty Crocker mix. Given the context of listening to a sermon from a pulpit on a Sunday morning, I would more than a Betty Crocker box mix as a sermon. The lectionary's focus on the church calendar also fails to understand the full spectrum of the Scriptures. The lectionary is right in emphasizing some Scripture above others, however, my little experience with lectionary style preaching is that it neglects many parts of Scripture. I would see it neglecting things like Ecclesiastes, Job, Proverbs, Revelation, and the majority of the Prophets. It is difficult to treat much of Scripture properly without delving into this material. For this reason, I would avoid preaching from the lectionary.

Another way to select a text is to pick topics that are relevant to your hearers. In some circles, this means the pastor preaches Sunday after Sunday on his pet topic. One church I attended for years, each and every sermon was on salvation. The point of the church service was to see that people were saved. The church was always full and more people were coming all the time. In the past couple of decades there has been the pastors who choose to preach on marriage, money and success. These all sound relevant to most people. If they preach on marriage, then pastors can say sex in their sermon and get away with it. In a sense I feel that there is some lack of ingenuousnesses on the part of the pastor who preaches on this because he is shamelessly working to put sex appeal and the seduction of power into his sermon. It is the tickling of ears that bothers me. However, there are pastors chose the topics in good faith, focusing on issue that the hearer needs to hear. The problem with that though is that sooner or later, there are the topics that need to be covered that never get covered because there is a lack of perception that there is a need when all along the need is great.

I have the conviction that for the most part, pastors should practice expository preaching from the Bible. This means that the pastor should cover section by section, or verse by verse or sometimes chapter by chapter. My pastor in California preached his Sunday sermon chapter by chapter, but his Wednesday night sermon was verse by verse. I still remember him preaching through Genesis in one series and another series on the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17). I also remember my pastor in Texas preaching through 1 Corinthians. These series were preached over 20 years ago, and yet I still remember them to some extent. This speaks to how this works in the minds of the hearers. One weakness is that pastors can tend to preach from the books from which are the most easy to preach. I would think that the discerning pastor would find out what had been preached prior to his coming, even so far as ten years prior to his coming. If one pastor leaves and another comes in his place, the new pastor should consult with the leaders and faithful in the church to ask what had been preached. Some of the strengths of expository preaching is that you can talk about those topics like marriage, money and success, but in a balanced way. You also have to deal with church discipline, pursuit of wisdom and how God deals sovereignly with the nations of the world. It brings about a balance of topics. The topics chosen by God are not arbitrary. In a sense, the Bible is a divine curriculum.
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