Len Sweet says in his newest book on the topic of preaching Giving Blood that he has had to learn 7 different preaching styles throughout his ministry career. In seminary, he was coached to never say “you, we, us” in a sermon. Imagine that!
Preaching, Sweet says, is a dialogue instead of a monologue. Most sermons we hear today, however, are monologues or “speeching” as Doug Pagitt says. However, a monologue can still be a dialogue if the communicator can convince his/her audience that he/she “gets” them. And according to Malcom Gladwell, that verdict is settled within the first several seconds of every presentation.
I enjoy preaching. Not because I get to stand in front of crowds and tell them what I think. (After all of this time, it is still nerve-racking to do) I think that I like the preparation of the sermon as much as the delivery. I enjoy learning. I’m curious, by nature. So when I get the chance to preach, the content I encounter is like a circus for my curiosity tastebuds.
Putting the pile of content together for a presentation is a tricky task. I taught a section of preaching while I was a Visiting Professor at Sterling College. We used a helpful book Choosing to Preach by Ken Anderson which diagnosed 5 preaching styles with different goals for the sermon. The students in the class asked what I do for sermon delivery, so I created the “Skillen Sermon” outline (humble, I know). I usually look for the 3 I’s (Idea, Image, Implication) of a sermon. This style seeks to reach out to the intuitive and sensory persons within the crowd. (Hat tip to Myers-Briggs) Implication is better than application, in my opinion. That is a subject for another time.
As I was preparing for the message this Sunday, I realized that my sermon style is beginning to resemble a Twitter feed, with several things stitched together into a whole presentation.
In one message I have:
A reference to Back to the Future
Sunflower Seeds and Gatorade
Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution
A Spiderman 2 reference
Short Sleeves and Door Jams
The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics
And a Robert Farrar Capon Quotation
These items are stitched together like a Twitter feed that (hopefully) will unearth a big idea about Jesus.
The Reason: The amount of time we give to our Facebook and Twitter feeds has rewired the way that we see our world and the way we take in content. Test it out. Open your Facebook page right now and notice the mosaic of items that captures your attention and provokes you to share, like, comment, and engage.
The sermon, then, is used to help draw our eyes to the Christ in the common that is found in a thousand different locations all around us. As the old hymn “This is My Father’s World” suggests, “This is my Father’s world / He shines in all things fair.” The sermon is not just a time to hear something new, but also to train us to see the God among us in every hour outside of worship services.
This adjustment in sermon style has caught me completely off guard, it wasn’t something that I intended. As the old saying goes, “Sometimes we make tools and at other times our tools make us.”